New Films 






# 8, April 2005

 David MacFadyen (University of California, Los Angeles)

  Literature Has Left the Building: Russian Romance and Today’s TV Drama


I’m already 83 years old and scared I won’t make it to the end of your TV serial.  Please tell me a secret…  How does it all end?


Of all our arts [today], the TV series is the most important.[i]



In Episode Four of Dmitrii Mednov’s Side by Side with Love (Parallel'no liubvi, 2004), an outrageously affluent businessman (and gubernatorial candidate) is publicly embarrassed.  He has been slowly falling in love with his female campaign advisor and this evening must face her mother across a small dinner table.  An imposing matriarch (Lidiia Fedoseeva-Shukshina), she immediately takes him to task for knowing no literature, especially after he admits ignorance of Aleksei Tolstoi’s Road to Calvary—the novel’s heroines provide the names for both the advisor and her younger sister.  Shukshina’s harangue does not abate and so the businessman tries to defend himself.  He fails, but this type of fault-finding is so familiar to the daughters that the youngest interrupts her mother in order to stop some tediously familiar phrasing:

— Have you read Dostoevskii?

— Yes, I have.  Not much, though, ‘cos I work a lot.

— Well, that’s not much of an excuse, young man.  You have to read the Russian

classics.  If all politicians and businessmen would read the Russian classics…

— …then we’d all live a lot better.  Russian literature teaches people morality.

Although the daughter sighs at this tirade, the mother’s point remains serious.  It comes, to boot, from the real-life spouse of a famous Soviet writer.  What is television, literature’s nemesis, doing by telling people to read literature?  And what exactly is being dragged from the nineteenth-century, all the way through the Soviet experience, and then offered to the oligarchs of today?  “Morality”?

The heroes of Soviet literature, in both historical and ideological senses, are often referenced seriously and ironically in Russian TV series.  Television is remembering, quoting, and, in some senses, saving the literature that society’s movers and shakers don’t know very well.  Yet TV does so by keeping people away from libraries and on their sofas.  Romantically-driven and melodramatic television series show this strange process best of all, with the kind of caring, cultured and morally upstanding social bonds that allow producers and directors to rummage around in the past.  These broadcasts can mine the metaphors of socialism (parenthood/brotherhood/family/love), thus keeping the “social” yet dumping the “ism.”  They show kindness in a cruel society and do so by leaning heavily on the structural workings of the narratives they most resemble: serialized novels of the nineteenth century.  Pre-Soviet forms and Soviet morals dovetail to counter the savagery of post-Soviet marketplace corruption (especially among rich men who don’t read Tolstoi).

Though the following text focuses upon the importance of love stories, it also maps out some common ground with Elena Prokhorova’s research on detective series in the Soviet Union under Brezhnev.  This connection with her work is possible since her study synthesizes (and then foreshadows) certain issues of pertinence that implicate a productive overlap between socialist tradition and the start of the twenty-first century.  One of her key tenets is that “Soviet television of the 1970s made Soviet narratives and icons polysemous.”[ii]  My recent monographs on socialist song and prose classics concluded, in a comparable spirit, that their “Sovietness” came from what journalism or socialist academe said about them, rather than what they described in reality (that is, prior to policy’s crude redefinition of their “true purpose”).  Politicians frequently needed (polysemous or) apolitical adventure stories and pop songs, say, in order then to create telling, promotional metaphors of social cohesion.  Those reworked metaphors could turn little love songs between two people into oratorical bombast applicable to two hundred million.  Stories of total forgiveness and acceptance (amid love, family, trusted friends, or nature) were things dogma needed and employed, yet could not enact—they were excessive.

This undoable, traumatic excess would (and will) not go away any time soon, since the Brezhnev years were calm and trouble-free (if we speak with Russian notions of relativity).  The 1970s are, therefore, a fruitful period for the nostalgic directors and viewers of today.  That decade’s serene socialist populism avoids generic obsolescence for yet another reason: criminal series of thirty years ago involved more than just crime.  As Prokhorova notes in her forward-looking finale, many of the detective shows that grew from the traditions of the 1970s were generically muddled, producing such re-fashionable combinations as the “police procedural/sitcom [or the] gangster saga/male melodrama.” [iii]  The aim of my paper is to investigate the nature and workings of these stubborn, ever-enjoyable mélanges.  How do so many long, drawn out stories wander back and forth between genres, decade after decade?  What, in particular, can we say about the endurance of their romantically “impure” elements that ultimately provide the metaphors of cohesion or construction long after any criminal has stopped being subversive?

Television series tell the most important stories in Russia today.  Stylistically tainted Russian TV is now churning out 75 series a year.  This is an amazing yield, considering that as recently as 1999-2000 only 5% of nationally broadcast series were made domestically.  One continuity discernible in this changing, snowballing situation is that detective dramas still outnumber melodramas, yet what—purportedly—is central to those criminal stories is “the crisis of the [modern, Russian] family as an institution.” [iv]  Love for one’s nearest and dearest is still drawn upon by screenwriters left, right, and center.  The business of showing families’ breakdowns (or uncertain renewals) in an entertaining fashion now commands a joint production budget of $150,000,000 per annum.  This figure has been reached with particular speed since the start of the new millennium.  In 2001, the cost of shooting all TV serials nationwide had been $40 million; by 2003 that total had risen to $70 million—and thus doubled in twelve months alone.  This escalation will not stop, either.  Industry experts suggest that Russia’s television networks could hypothetically support 6,000 hours of broadcast drama per annum; currently the massive output outlined in this introduction constitutes about 3,500 hours per annum.  Expect even more series very soon….  Not surprisingly, the market leaders amid all the hustle and bustle are the channels ORT, Rossiia, and, in third place, NTV. [v] 

The rather lazy tendency to joke about Russians watching episodes of Santa Barbara in primetime is now very obsolete. [vi]  Seven years ago, the cost of showing an episode of Santa Barbara fluctuated between $12,000 and $14,000.  The advertising revenue from initial broadcast and (limited) subsequent repeats could bring up to $50,000 in revenue.  A handsome profit, by any standards, but everything changed in August 1998.  The nation’s government announced its intent to default on overseas debts and nationwide financial collapse ensued with alarming rapidity.  Buying foreign serials was suddenly too expensive an enterprise, yet herein lay the chance of a lifetime for Russian serial production.

Television heads in Moscow now saw that it cost the same to film one episode of a soap in Russia as it did to buy an episode of some US equivalent, but a home-made product could be repeated endlessly (outside of the restrictive repeat-viewing clauses in US contracts), sold to somebody else, turned into a cheaper sequel, or subsidized from the outset by product placement.  It likewise became clear to Russian feature-film studios that making one hour of television drama would cost them 50% less than 60 minutes of footage destined for the big screen.  Suddenly it made sense to make TV, not purchase it.  The cost of producing an episode today can vary greatly, however, between $30,000 and $100,000, so this story of geographical shifts (from Los Angeles to Moscow) will also be one of greatly varying quality as the ability to make TV goes head to head with the desire to make it cheaply.

Thus began the television series as we know it today.  This article will examine the role of long, televised serial narratives and the ways they have—despite all accusations of being cheap, tawdry entertainment—not only done extremely well for themselves, but have also adopted many aspects of the treasured literary tradition in Russia (which has, by all accounts, long been abandoned by today’s excessively faddish novelists).  If you want to experience classic Russian storytelling, walk away from the library, go home, and turn on the TV.

  Soviet Beginnings and a Mexican-Brazilian Finale

How did television series even come to Russia?  This remains a tricky issue, since argument continues over how lengthy, serialized “television films” of the past relate to the television series we know today.  What is the difference between a long film in four parts and a series in fourteen?   If we take the most inclusive view possible, then the granddaddy of them all is often said to be Bringing Fire upon Ourselves (Vyzyvaem ogon' na sebia, dir. Sergei Kolosov) of 1963-4, recorded at Mosfil'm and commissioned by  Gosteleradio.  This stirring tale of WWII spy Ania Morozova and her escapades with Polish resistance fighters was broken into four episodes (96, 76, 77, and 68 minutes).  Ironically, as state television then tried to satisfy the public’s manifest desire for this type of lengthy “Russian” story, Mosfil'm would gain benefit from real-life Polish and Bulgarian colleagues, too, as budgetary constraints obliged Moscow to borrow Polish TV series (A Four-Man Tank Crew and a Dog [Chetyre tankista i sobaka, dir. Konrad Natecki, from 1965] and A Risk Greater Than Life [Stavka bol'she, chem zhizn', dir. Andrzej Konic, 1967]).  Issues of sufficient financing were solved with admirable speed, though.  Over 1967 and 1968, for example, 113 TV films were broadcast on the Soviet small screen.  Central Television also oversaw the birth of Èkran, an association responsible for many classic serialized films of the 1970s.  These included adaptations of the Anatolii Ivanov novels Shadows Vanish at Noon (Teni ischezaiut v polden', dir. Valerii Uskov and Vladimir Krasnopol'skii, 1971 [TV]/1974 [cinema]) and An Eternal Summons (Vechnyi zov, dir. Valerii Uskov and Vladimir Krasnopol'skii, 1973), together with the most famous of all espionage dramas The Seventeen Moments of Spring (Semnadtsat' mgnovenii vesny, dir. Tat'iana Lioznova, 1973).[vii] 

A Four-Man Tank Crew and a Dog The Seventeen Moments of Spring    3 Experts Are on the Case  

        Almost simultaneously, a more modern-sounding detective series had been planned: Experts Are on the Case (Sledstvie vedut znatoki, multiple directors) that debuted to immediate success in 1971.  Here, grand and more typical themes, such as Siberian villages under Soviet power or WWII anti-Fascist activity, were avoided.  Popular wisdom tells us that the series’ genesis can be traced to the late 1960s, when the writers Aleksandr and Ol'ga Lavrov were asked to help create the drama at Mosfil'm, in part because the studio’s director had himself once been a prosecutor.  The Lavrovs were already well-known for their regular publication of courtroom transcripts in the pages of The Literary Gazette (Literaturnaia gazeta).[viii]  This combination of fact and fiction was a hit; the resultant series would spawn 22 episodes, the last of which was broadcast as late as 1989.[ix]

The Rendezvous is Set   

5 Mikhail Boiarskii as DArtagnan in D’Artagnan and the Three Musketeers

  The parallel and truncated format of “extended television films” (or shorter proto-series) would also blossom in the same period, most notably in the melodramatic Gypsy (Tsygan, dir. Aleksandr Blank, 1979) over four episodes (100, 80, 80, and 85 minutes), together with The Rendezvous is Set (Mesto vstrechi izmenit' nel'zia, dir. Stanislav Govorukhin; five episodes) in the same year.  Soon to be canonized with equal verve in the 1980s were the Boiarskii-heavy swashbuckling adventures D’Artagnan and the Three Musketeers (D’Artan'ian i tri mushketera, dir. Georgii Iungval'd-Khil'kevich, 1978; 80, 65, and 75 minutes) and the trilogy spawned by Svetlana Druzhinina’s costume adventure Midshipmen, Onwards! (Gardemariny, vpered!, 1987; 80, 70, 65, and 75 minutes).  In today’s civic memory, these have walked side by side with a five-film Sherlock Holmes series directed by Igor' Maslennikov between 1979 and 1986, itself fluctuating between feature-film and episodic formats.  The 1980s are also punctuated by a neat consistency in the ten, seventy-minute episodes of TASS is Authorized to Report (TASS upolnomochen zaiavit', dir. Vladimir Fokin, 1984).[x]  The emphases sketched here—history, (admired or envied) foreign models, detective work, and a struggle with classic literature—would continue to be important.

Many TV films and similar series, however, neither generated exceptional interest nor produced profit.  As socialism shuffled inelegantly from the world stage and international awareness grew after the mid- to late 1980s, Soviet models of television drama began to look woefully old-fashioned.  Indeed, within two years of the final Sherlock Holmes film, bold and brash Mexican or Brazilian soaps would appear, purchased en masse by Russian channels.  They created serious, if not overwhelming, competition for the initial post-Soviet series Goriachev and Others (Goriachev i drugie, dir. Iurii Belen'kii, 1992-94) or The Little Things of Life (Melochi zhizni, dir. Viacheslav Brovkin, Gennadii Pavlov, and Aleksandr Pokrovskii, 1992-1995).

In fact it would take several years for Russian studios and TV stations to plan a counterattack against Latin American melodrama.  Even in the late-1990s, under pressure from post-default economic restraints, more audacious and parsimonious executives at ORT decided it was acceptable to slice both An Eternal Summons and Shadows Vanish at Noon into 52-minute episodes.  Each hour could thus accommodate eight minutes of primetime advertising.  This ruse allowed ORT briefly to outpace viewing figures for Timothy Dalton and the American series Scarlett (1994), but it was hardly a long-term solution, even if it did show the potential validity of home-made serials amid primetime foreign competition (after 7:45 pm).[xi]  Any rehashing of old broadcasts was also a long way from what studios really wanted to do: make new, respectable shows and avoid undignified pandering to market pressures.  Even today, the head of a hugely influential TV production company in Russia has admitted, “the more television series adapted from novels written by classic writers, the better.”[xii]

RTR, hoping the canon would make them money, had already manufactured two recent and “classic” adaptations of Dumas’ La Reine Margot (Koroleva Margo, dir. Aleksandr Muratov, 1995-96) and La Dame De Monsoreau (Grafinia de Monsoro dir. Vladimir Popkov, 1997), ventures that leaned heavily not only on broad French shoulders and the printed page, but also on the admired Soviet Musketeer serials—themselves a jumble of swashbuckling theater, romance, and nationally-famous songs.  Almost concurrently, an even more staid—yet cheaper—project appeared: The Secrets of St. Petersburg (Peterburgskie tainy, dir. Vadim Zobin, Mark Orlov, and Leonid Pchelkin, 1994-1996), based on Vsevolod Krestovskii’s novel Petersburg Slums.  This attempt at nineteenth-century respectability displayed little of what commentators nowadays call the “nationally specific or homey” features that epitomize so many Russian serials.[xiii]   Hence, complaints continued unabated about pointless television series from the US, while these types of more “literary” narratives buckled under the weight of sun-soaked Latin broadcasts.

Spanish- and Portuguese-language drama came to Russia thanks largely to the equally exotic, Bulgarian-born French distributor Dino Dinev.  Unable to convince Russian Central Television that they would adore his 300-kilogram box of Mexican video cassettes, he agreed to let the Russians broadcast the first five episodes of The Rich Cry, Too (Bogatye tozhe plachut [Los Ricos También Lloran]) for free.  Only when studio heads at Ostankino saw sacks of cheery viewer-mail that had literally reached the ceiling, did they invest in the soap on a long-term basis.

  6  Veronica Castro

The Rich Cry, Too debuted the first of its 249 episodes in 1992.  Originally scheduled for once-weekly showings on Saturdays, it was soon broadcast five days out of seven.  Love came to town.  The show’s star, Veronica Castro, claimed on a 1992 visit to Russia that her heroine “knows how to fight for her happiness.  Maria is both a woman and a winner.”[xiv]  These clichés surrounding feisty, full-bosomed Latin types started to have serious consequence in Slavdom.  The 150-episode Simply Maria (Prosto Mariia [Simplemente María]), itself based upon a 1967 Argentinean serial of the same name, enjoyed equal success, growing from a simple premise: the tale of a peasant girl who moves to a big city, where she finds love, money, and adventure—beginning with an accidental pregnancy.   Castro herself saw nothing formulaic in this and other plots, though: “I was attracted to the series because it touches on complex, multifaceted problems, the most important of which is the love of a middle-aged woman for a younger man…  In Mexico, at the start of the twentieth century, that would have looked like a real challenge to society.”[xv]

At the end of that same century it seemed that only established and yet innovative Soviet directors could save Slavic television studios from the challenge of torpor.[xvi]  The strategies regarding any kind of comeback were well documented by The Independent Newspaper (Nezavisimaia gazeta) in its weekly polling of politicians, public figures, and regular viewers vis à vis the best, worst, or most memorable TV broadcasts of the past seven days.  We can hear discontent from the very outset: “All those Latin American serials and soap operas are quite simply the stupefaction of society.”[xvii]  The kingpins of late Soviet culture were not happy with the alternatives available at home, either: “I can’t call the [Russian] serials great works of art.  They’re pleasant enough, but they’ve got really primitive screenplays that always hinge on some kind of cruelty—and a requisite criminal component, too” (Georgii Danielia);[xviii] “I get irritated by the actors’ constant lisping, by all those sentimental women’s serials, by the disrespect shown among young people, by their appalling speech and incredible arrogance” (Aleksandr Kushner).[xix]

For all this prohibitive grumbling, the Brazilian soap Isaura the Slave (Escrava Isaura)—already shown to great acclaim in 79 nations—about the abolition of slavery, had scored a massive home run in Russia with its fusion of historical fact, exotic locales, undying love, and moral propreity.[xx]  The floodgates were open: a deluge of Brazilian serials marked the first few years of post-Soviet life: Seniorita (Sen'orita [Sinha Moca], broadcast in 1992); My Love, My Grief (Moia liubov', moia pechal' [Meu Bem, Meu Mal], broadcast in 1993); The Sweet Spring (Sladkii ruchei [Riacho Doce], broadcast in 1993); Full-Moon of Love (Polnolunie liubvi [Lua Cheia de Amor], broadcast in 1994); and The New Wave (Novaia volna [74.5 Uma Onda no Ar], broadcast in 1994).  Between 1999 and 2001, this influence was still profitable—seventeen Brazilian series were scattered across the networks.[xxi]

Where could Russia look for long, historical narratives of its own?  Logically to literature (again), maybe even to tales that themselves celebrated the cultural primacy of words.  Nabokov’s The Gift, Bulgakov’s The Master and Margarita, and Pasternak’s Doctor Zhivago were advocated in 1999 by one journalist at The Banner (Znamia) as suitable material; by pleasant coincidence Russian serials were starting to enjoy their first serious market share at this time.  The same columnist, however, wanted works by great writers, not about their lives.  TV could not handle that lofty subject: “A novel about a novelist is truly a core element of twentieth-century Russian culture … of high culture.  As the hero of a soap opera or serial, a Russian writer will be dull.  You can’t hang anything on that kind of figure except outdated ambitions …  New Russia can’t garner its identity through the figure of a writer, of literature.  It can’t repeat or clone some old, nineteenth-century or Soviet notion.  It’s historically pointless.  It’s a dead-end.  It’s a Mobius strip that Russia can never escape from.”[xxii]

One of the biggest problems of cultural escape was the inability of early Russian series in the 1990s to look sophisticated, a predicament caused by little cash, “cheap screenplays, cheap direction, and cheap camerawork, too.”[xxiii]  Only very recently would things change: “I find myself rejecting those foreign series.  Lately I’ve been watching our Russian TV series with pleasure.”[xxiv]  This single and subjective opinion can be easily contextualized with more objective data: in 2002, Russian TV dropped Santa Barbara in order to free up space for domestic dramas. Two soon-to-be important production companies—A-Media and Phoenix Films—were simultaneously born.  Likewise, if in 1999 Russian series occupied less than 10% of primetime line-ups, as noted, by 2001-2002 they claimed 46%.[xxv]  The slowly vanquished time-slots of 19:30 (on RTR) and 20:55 (on NTV) allowed homegrown dramas to outperform both E.R. and Walker: Texas Ranger.  NTV even had the audacity to place two domestic serials back-to-back in the evening slots—and, to the amazement of all concerned, they bumped ORT’s national news broadcast (Vremia) into second place.  Dizzy with the anticipation of sudden profits, RTR crammed six new domestic series into its schedule within three months—and radically increased its market share as a result, from 4% to an occasional 25%![xxvi]  Every channel sat up, dreaming of advertising revenues that prior to the default had been climbing at annual rates of over 30% per annum, reaching $520 million in 1997—a figure then slashed to $190 million by 1999. 

Tempting Slavs Back to the Living Room with Literature

Actors, however, were not keen to jump on the bandwagon.  Being typecast or stuck in one role for several years following the success of a given series concerned many artistes and they often shied away from cut-rate television; even today most productions are filmed on video and fall short of the purportedly high benchmarks established by Soviet TV.[xxvii]  So how would thespians, especially the big stars, be attracted to homemade television, to work for the typical Russian viewership, 51% of which is female, 49% male and on average 38 years old?[xxviii]  A pivotal figure in this objective was Aleksei Slapovskii, a self-acknowledged fan of An Eternal Summons and The Seventeen Moments of Spring, who authored the screenplay for Request Stop (Ostanovka po trebovaniiu, dir. Dzhanik Faiziev, 2000 and 2001).  Centered on a down-to-earth story of two modern couples, one hardworking yet somewhat naïve and the other fiscally brutal, the series was praised for building upon the traditions of Moscow Does Not Believe in Tears (Moskva slezam ne verit, dir. Vladimir Men'shov, 1979), Winter Cherry (Zimniaia vishnia, dir. Igor' Maslennikov, 1985), and The Irony of Fate (Ironiia sud'by, dir. Èl'dar Riazanov, 1976).  Of course, for all the praise, there would be a fair share of lingering discontent from some quarters.  Killjoys claimed the show reflected (and enjoyed) a modern social dilemma, often bemoaned by Russian households—or at least by the husbands:

In our society today an intellectual shift is taking place; it’s probably connected to parallel shifts in the financial world.  Men and women are swapping social roles.  If aliens ever watched this TV series, they’d conclude that men on Earth are the weaker sex.  These men trail after the main heroine and all want something from her: love, money, or a child.  But she, being proud and independent, chooses the weakest of them all…  She courageously “adopts” the infantile hero and hopes to make a real man out of him.  Anybody among you who wishes to repeat this exercise should be wished good luck and reminded of what happened to Frankenstein.[xxix]

Love stories could not be told as before because families had changed too much.  Slapovskii deliberately wrote Request Stop to counter all the increasing “detective shows, action stories, and other nonsense.”  Instead, it would offer a new tale based on human nature, rather than loud adventure.[xxx]  Here, in this and related TV projects, there resided a different notion of community, the strains of a patriotism that’s “simple, like a lowing sound.”[xxxi]  Yet despite these accusations of simplicity or sad, inverted binaries, it was occasionally asserted that the simple structural opposites of Mexican soap operas (be they ethical or gender-based) were actually instigating a desire among Russian viewers for something more intricate.  “People got tired of silly conflicts between some heroine—with her soul of sterile purity—and innumerable villains that surrounded her while they plotted in various wicked ways.”[xxxii]  Love should, therefore, be somehow traditional, nationally specific, and complex at the same time.

If Slapovskii’s “Russianness” could avoid cookie-cutter simplicity, it might find good company amid the claims of Valerii Todorovskii (TV drama chief at Rossiia) that visual episodic narratives are worthy inheritors of Chekhov’s oeuvre—whilst feature films are more “Tolstoian.”  Agreement is heard at other TV stations today.  Todorovskii’s counterpart at ORT, Dzhanik Faiziev, says today’s TV drama is now made of compound or mixed genres—which is by no means a failing, for “human stories [thus] transpire.”  Neither life nor love is simple.  Faiziev quotes the tragicomedy Kramer versus Kramer (Robert Benton, 1979) as a good benchmark for modern and multi-generic storytelling.  Transferred to Russia, the resulting hero from such stories, say executives at STS, should be “strong, pleasant, attractive, and able to give people a good dose of optimism.”[xxxiii]

The recent adaptation of Dostoevskii’s The Idiot (dir. Vladimir Bortko, 2003) for Rossiia is perhaps the best example of this problematical shift from literature to something local, newer, and “attractive.”  The series’ DVD box-set of 2003 maintains that inside is the “first version of the novel in world cinema based on utmost fidelity to the original text.”  In a draft article discussing this project, [xxxiv] Konstantine Kliutchkine of Pomona College has remarked that the producers, over and above their respect for the words of the original, also wanted to avoid any costume drama burdened by material objects—by an exacting fidelity to furniture or interiors of the period.[xxxv]  He also notes that the series straddles two disparate periods of TV production.  Conceived and constructed between 1999 and 2003, it was imagined during the heyday of Latin American serials but appeared during the renaissance of domestic shows.  What Kliutchkine calls the “willful archaism” of The Idiot on TV is as much a deep bow of respect before the Brazilians as it is a nod towards Dostoevskii.

   The Idiot

Here the issues of well-spoken status, cheapness, and profitable familiarity are all rolled together.  Director Vladimir Bortko said: “You can call The Idiot a detective story—and probably a melodrama, too.  It was written just like a soap opera for newspapers.”[xxxvi]  The newspaper Russian News (Rossiiskie vesti) likened the series to both Soviet detective dramas and the modern mystical show Beyond the Wolves (Po tu storonu volkov, dir. Vladimir Khotinenko, 2002; see below) because it stresses love and other familial elements within its criminal plot.  The same paper also maintained—simultaneously and in contradiction to Bortko—that the broadcasts are “an attempt to create a domestic show different from Latin American family sagas, with all their muddled family relationships between relatives.”[xxxvii]  But how convincing was this claim to self-respecting socialist culture or the leather tomes of its libraries if foreign TV was a frequent point of reference (if only in order to outdo it)? 

Elsewhere, the Idiot adaptation was called, more accurately, “a detective story of feelings”[xxxviii] and this definition helps to clarify matters.  The series realizes certain affective and Brazilian elements that are novelistic.  As Kliutchkine writes:

Like the [Latin-American] telenovela, The Idiot focuses on passions and suffering in the context of family relations and relies on criminal subplots.  Similarly to The Idiot, telenovelas explore the combination of national and human values, often setting their narratives in a vaguely pre-industrial past.  Staple fare in telenovelas, oppositions between demonic and spiritual men as well as loose and honest women also fashion the character structure for Dostoevskii’s text.  Finally, the telenovela is a highly theatrical genre relying on rigid camera work, long close-ups of the actors’ faces, theatrical sets and incessant relationship-talk, all features central to the aesthetic organization of The Idiot.

In a land where nobody reads novels any more, their structure and social intentions remain, working hard and finding much in common with Latin soaps.

Money aside, another reason that The Idiot borrowed from Brazil was that prior to the Russian TV renaissance, domestic shows merely leaned on socialist clichés (or reedited classics) in order to “console millions of people in the absence of new values and norms.”  If news broadcasts were designed to “explain that we’re alive, then serials should explain why we’re alive.”  New Brazilian soaps were already the logical heirs to the narrative structure, heroes, and ethical (depoliticized) tenets of the past; those heroes were worthy of Viacheslav Tikhonov.  They could be compared to “Shtirlits [from The Seventeen Moments of Spring] or to the heroes of [Aleksei] Batalov and [Iurii] Nikulin.”[xxxix]

Serializations, both on Brazilian television or in 19th-century publishing houses, leave big gaps between segments and increase the audience’s role in collaboratively creating meaning.  Serialization turns a straightforward narrative into a better form of social glue.  If extended over a long period of time, the punctuated storyline may start moving in the direction of a soap opera—where desire is never satisfied and nothing ever ends.  Serials, however, do end (eventually) and therefore operate between coherence and diffusion, between satisfying a hope or desire and the more aimless business of desiring, pure and simple.  The size of this fluctuating social group is, of course, often financially determined, just as is the length of a serialized novel. 

The same logic can determine the size of social units being shown on screen, too—that is, the groups of characters who create groups of willing and empathetic viewers.  Here again the stripped-down look of The Idiot comes into play.  Scenes usually center on two or three people, being cheaper to shoot than outdoor, action-based footage.  “Although clearly economically determined, this interiority [on US television] enhances daytime’s ‘women-centered’ atmosphere since its dyadic structure and familiar setting necessitate a primarily emotional and interactive, rather than action-oriented narrative…  The sets are not hermeneutically crucial in themselves, as they are in cinema.  Soaps focus on what characters say to one another, not where they say it.”[xl]  Elena Prokhorova has likewise suggested that earlier, detective dramas of the 1970s were driven by dialog, not action;[xli] the experience of watching today’s retrospective, respectful, and emotional TV is often structured by cash and cultural mining.  So with all these influences in the creation of emotional melodramas—money (from advertising and profiteering), the Soviet tradition, Latin telenovelas, the big screen, and, last of all, the unassailable prestige of “the novel,” can any kind of thematic rubrics be suggested? 

Some Categories of Russian Romantic Television

1: Historical

Poor Nastia (Bednaia Nastia, 2003)

The grandest series in this category, from a purely financial point of view if nothing else, is the nineteenth-century costume drama Poor Nastia (dir. Ekaterina Dvigubskaia, Petr Krotenko, Stas Libin [nature scenes], Alla Plotkina, Aleksandr Smirnov, and Petr Shtein).  Its producers announced with considerable hubris that after the series’ presentation in Los Angeles, it would be purchased and displayed in thirty countries, including Greece, Spain, and—ironically or triumphantly—Latin America.  The reasons for success on this scale are multiple, but interestingly enough the director of A-Media, which produced Poor Nastia (together with the hit adventure series The Brigade [Brigada, dir. Aleksei Sidorov, 2002]), said recently that filming the past is always simpler than filming the present.[xlii]  Looking back at history (which already makes sense) is easier than looking around and making sense yourself.  

8 Cast of Poor Nastia  

9 Elena Korikova as Poor Nastia  

Convinced of this argument, foreign backers quickly appeared to fund the Tolstoian, touristy clichés they expect from Slavdom.  A-Media was joined by Columbia Tristar Pictures (who brought Santa Barbara to Russia) and Sony Pictures.  Much money was spent and many tools were borrowed or bought to the tune of $11,400,000:[xliii] forty-two tons of equipment delivered from overseas; two central sound stages measuring 2,600 square meters, plus fifty-two additional sets; frequent travel to (and use of) more than fifty outdoor locations; eight hundred costumes; six directors; thirteen screenwriters and a final screenplay of 9,600 pages, giving voice to the 7,200 people in fourteen cities who passed through casting [xliv]  The resulting, passionate epic stars some of the prettiest (yet jarringly modern) faces working in television today: Elena Korikova, Daniil Strakhov, Petr Krasilov, and Dmitrii Isaev. [xlv]

Despite being set further in the past than any other series in this article, Poor Nastia claims an emotional relevance in the present:

1839: History is moving forward, but human feelings do not change.  Love and jealousy, honor and envy, fidelity and disloyalty prevail.  Aging Baron Korf has raised Anna as his own daughter.  He dreams of watching her on the stage of the Imperial Theater.  The beau monde of St. Petersburg undoubtedly sees great talent and a great future in Anna.  But very few people know that she is a peasant girl. Prince Mikhail Repnin fell in love with Anna from the moment he set eyes upon her; he, too, is ignorant of her background.  Will Repnin be able to preserve this love when Anna’s secret is revealed? [xlvi]

These complex social dilemmas and concomitant emotions required 120 episodes to work themselves out.  One of the directors (Petr Shtein) drew consciously upon Gone with the Wind (Victor Fleming, 1939) to remind him of the “beautiful, powerful blockbuster” he sought for viewers. [xlvii]  Similarly, the screenwriters wanted to shape Poor Nastia not as an American broadcast (that is, structurally open-ended in case of good ratings and a second series), but as a complete work with “beginning, middle and end,” since that—allegedly—is what Slavic audiences want.  In structuring the tale, the American members of the team were surprised that their European colleagues expected a screenplay based on “historical fact,” not social gossip or faux mysticism.[xlviii]   “The serial includes a lot of real people and many of the events that made the nineteenth century so rich.  To show how carefully the writers related their text to historical truth, we worked with an expert historian and an authority on the history of fashion.”[xlix]  In somehow juxtaposing objective, past reality with the affective power of the narrative, the latter was co-opted into the former: “A fairytale is falsehood, but this falsehood must be counteracted by truth.”[l]  The producers expressed their intent to prejudice the ostensible, “objective” aspect of their endeavors.  The Idiot shied away from ostensible reality, but Poor Nastia fosters it.  We can sense already a major dilemma; even when some of the characters, like Prince Repnin, were the product of screenwriters’ fantasy, journalists went to great effort to prove other individuals had “really” existed with the same name and in some cases were documented by Karamzin.  “Repnin is not a real historical personage, but the creators of Poor Nastia were no doubt trying to ‘connect’ him to that well-known family line.”[li]

In a similar spirit, some columnists offered their readership endless facts and figures from the series’ given period, all in the name of a “truer” context.  I have already mentioned the year 1839, when “the Winter Palace was rebuilt after a major fire; monetary reform was begun, resulting in a system based upon silver; the Pulkovskaia Observatory was opened and Lermontov finished the final version of his narrative poem, The Demon.”  Some of those facts may be relevant, but others were not: “At the end of 1839, somewhere between the towns of Vladimir and Moscow, a foreign traveler came across a colossal elephant surrounded by a cavalcade of horses.  The elephant was a present from the Persian Shah to Nikolai the First.”[lii]  The documentary evidence was excessive, an issue peculiar to the Russian series and to which we shall return later.

Another local problem emerged when the Americans discovered Russian writers were not used to pacing the acts of any given episode so that advertisements would fall into the rhythm of the work, punctuating it with minimum intrusion.[liii]  Likewise, given the very unusual, unwieldy size of the series, some actors—as noted—worried they would be typecast in this unusually long drama,[liv] others that poor ratings would mean being “written out” of the plot by death or accident.[lv]  A third oddity was the American pace of work.  All the technology mentioned above meant that “normal” US production speeds could be met: one day per episode.[lvi]  Perhaps the filming schedule would contradict all possible artistic benefits of a huge budget: “Speed’s only a good thing if you’re hunting fleas!”[lvii]  Dmitrii Isaev conflated these problems of artistry and speed when he compared the project with a marathon, but the physical labor of each day to filming a one-act play: “Each day’s a premiere, an exam.”[lviii]  Another of the actors (Daniil Strakhov) admitted that only valerian drops, vodka, TV, and computer games allowed him to “switch off” mentally each evening.[lix]

Poor Nastia is indeed a huge, rambling tale on the Tolstoian scale of feature films.  In a similarly Tolstoian manner (this time from Anna Karenina), viewers said that burying a loveable heroine in the middle of so many episodes led to confusion; the series was named after a young woman who often seemed to be absent.  What on earth was going on?  Just as readers of a serialized romance in the nineteenth century, TV viewers today pondered all possible social relations or combinations in future episodes as hypothetical equations: “Anna + Vladimir Korf = ?”; “Anna + Mikhail Repnin = ?”  In attempting to simplify these matters, the most fundamental question of all was posed: “What does Anna want?  Love.  A real, radiant and all-consuming love.”[lx]  Vanishing in a huge plot and falling into love were supposed to mirror each other: “Do You Like Vanishing into the 19th Century?” asked the promotional materials.  Is that movement invisibly affective or theatrical?  “Gorgeous costumes and sets.  How could they not make you happy?  Every little girl dreams of waking up in a place like that.”[lxi]

  Bless the Woman (Blagoslovite zhenshchinu, 2003)

Other big historical dramas of late have been set in the twentieth century, but one in particular is notable for its costumed scale, like Poor Nastia.  Bless the Woman is the work of Stanislav Govorukhin and has two hypostases, as both a television series and a feature film.

The heroine’s life is shown against the backdrop of actual events in Russia’s  history, all the way from the 1930s to the 1950s.  Together with her husband—a  soldier—she travels the nation, trying to find the kind of happiness sought by any woman.  All of this takes place during times of repression, war, and social breakdown after the hostilities.  Only when she returns to her hometown near the sea many years later does the heroine find, at long last, peace and quiet in her soul.

[This and all subsequent excerpts printed in italics are from promotional DVD synopses.]

The movie debuted on August 27, 2003―designated as Russia’s “Cinema Day”—and then opened simultaneously in 50 regions around the nation as part and parcel of celebrations to mark the end of WWII many years prior.  Somebody was keen on making a big fuss with a big story across a big time span.  If complex, peripatetic plots might be a marked category of historical melodramas today, then what of the condensed movie version?  Can the big TV series be abbreviated?  The newspaper Izvestiia said it had enough plot lines to match the 1,128 episodes of Santa Barbara.  The television version had a novelistic structure; the feature film, however, could handle neither the scope nor the full extension of any ideas contained in the serial.  

10: Poster for the film version of Bless the Woman  

In its longer television format, the movie was shown on ORT.  There are reports that Nikita Mikhalkov, too, who has consistently refused to shorten the running time for The Barber of Siberia (2000), is planning instead to add all of the out-takes and edited scenes back into the film and run this longer version on TV.  The significance of television increases as ORT frequently produces films, most notably Night Watch (Nochnoi dozor, dir. Timur Bekmambetov) in 2004, the clearest “symbol that television’s dictatorship has arrived in Russian cinema.”[lxii]  This small-screen authoritarianism pushed Bless the Woman all the way to Russia’s Oscar nominations.  A film existing both on the big screen and TV may seem an odd candidate for Hollywood, but it shows very well the cultural clout enjoyed by television in Russia; it also shows, perhaps, that Govorukhin—who is a Deputy in Russia’s Duma—can time the production of his patriotic films to help a political career.[lxiii]  

As the story maps one woman’s life across various key years (1935, 1938, 1941, 1945, and 1958), we are shown periods of Soviet history in a markedly partisan style, hence the rumors concerning the film’s political benefit.  This cinematic patriotism (re-)creates times when “only beautiful girls in gorgeous dresses and expensive shoes traveled on the Moscow subway.”  The film and its gorgeous, erstwhile Russia were accused of stealing their pathos from all corners of Soviet cinema.  Reliably solid, patriarchal figures seemed plagiarized from The Officers (Ofitsery, dir. Vladimir Rogovoi, 1971); the depiction of a dramatic female thespian (à la Faina Ranevskaia) recalled The Foundling (Podkidysh, dir. Tat'iana Lukashevich, 1939).  In addition, when the heroine saves herself from the Purges and escapes to a(n extremely) large house in the Crimea, the appearance of (yet another) dependable man in undependable times reminded some viewers of Aleksei Batalov’s role as Gosha in Moscow Does Not Believe in Tears.  

Using these somewhat grizzled stereotypes to fashion a modern “chick-flick,” as it was called more than once, Govorukhin plays into very Soviet notions of what a woman wants (and is).  His ideas of romance and loyalty as the benchmarks of patriotism were occasionally pilloried: “This ideal woman waits for her intended with a firm bosom and faithful, imploring eyes.  She throws herself on his neck even after a three or four-year absence, and doesn’t ask where he has been, whom he has slept with, or anything about what he did.  She always remembers (as she should) that he’s the one who decides things for her, everywhere and always.”[lxiv]

Worried that the female romantic leads in today’s movies look both unhealthy and asexual, Govorukhin chose a young lady from the casting process who reminded him of the Venus de Milo, Aphrodite, and Botticelli’s figures—all at the same time.  “Of course I wasn’t trying to suggest that our ideals of feminine beauty would change after my picture—but I’d certainly like them to.”[lxv]  The director explained his decision-making: “I was guided by intuition.  I once read that Fellini said directors very often don’t understand what they’re filming.  A director feels it, but can’t define it with words.  And that’s how it should be, because to define something with words is to limit it.  I’ve wanted to film ‘something’ for a long time now, but never knew what that ‘something’ was.”  

11: Svetlana Khodchenkova, lead actress of Bless the Woman  

It was feminine and it was loved.  The film was dedicated “To Our Mothers and Grandmothers.”  Govorukhin also declared openly in many interviews that he even modeled the heroine on his own mother.  Yet this overt referencing of actuality did not stop further criticism of warmed-over Soviet plots and outdated views of how the opposite sex should love.  His vagrant heroine, thrown from embrace to embrace, town to town, reminded some viewers of the actresses from An Eternal Summons, and his gendered views of trustworthiness continued to raise eyebrows.  “Perhaps an ideal woman should be like Govorukhin’s: fidelity to the grave, and then a new love will come to her as a reward.  Perhaps Govorukhin wants to believe that kind of theory. In one interview he said he makes ‘anti-cinema’ or, if you like, cinema to counter modern cinematography.”[lxvi]

Some of the younger women writing in soap forums were less than satisfied with Govorukhin’s “anti-cinema” or his ideas of love:

What the hell is kind or humane in this “masterpiece”?  You all write about poor women [here in the forum].  The husband almost wipes his feet on his wife, and that’s about the extent of his kindness.  I’ve lived with that type of unstable spouse―and I can tell you there’s nothing beautiful in it…  There’s no need to “bless this woman” in all her suffering and call it family life.  You should save women from suffering.  Films like this leave the younger generation with the reassurance that, as in the past, a wife is a free domestic laborer, a cook, laundry maid, housemaid, cleaning woman, nanny for the kids, and a passionate lover after the work day.  It’s all so phony![lxvii]

Poor Nastia and Govorukhin wished to erase the line between fact and fiction with grand, extraordinary storytelling, but did so unnaturally or artificially.  The distance between extraordinary and ordinary was sometimes too great.  

The Red Choir (Krasnaia kapella, 2004)

The series The Red Choir (dir. Aleksandr Aravin) hoped to fix these problems of phony romance or national and generic fidelity by basing the script on both upon well-known historical events (in this case Soviet espionage work in wartime France) and by taking much from the spy drama Seventeen Moments of Spring.  Even the mother of the serial’s chief actor, Andrei Il'in, said her son plays a better spy than Viacheslav Tikhonov’s Shtirlits in Seventeen Moments.[lxviii]  Viewers’ chat forums drew the same parallels between the private and the public, between the micro- and macro-political, in that the show’s love affairs mirrored yet outdid political allegiances.  “The film is amazing.  It’s absolutely the right thing to do, showing WWII and secret agents through the prism of human interaction…  We could do with a few more films like that, so young people could see cinema about their own history instead of endless, gory action flicks.  I’m so glad that Russian cinema is coming back.  Keep it up!”

The episodic historical film The Red Choir resurrects the traditions of the Russian spy series.  Moreover it’s an objective look at the work of secret agents during World War Two.  On the other hand, viewers will also see the chief organizers of the Red Choir not just as professional agents, but as vivid characters, too―people who never abandon their perfect compassion for others.

12 Viacheslav Tikhonov as Shtirlits in The Seventeen Moments of Spring  

13 The Red Choir


14 Cast of The Red Choir


The series centers on the real-world adventures of Leopold Trepper (codename Jean Gilbert) who had been a Soviet agent in Paris―though the producers, as in many Soviet dramas, sometimes use Riga as a mock-up for the streets of France.[lxix]  The choice of this story is interesting, given that Trepper was Jewish and rewarded by the Soviets for his priceless espionage work (which perhaps sealed victory at Stalingrad) with ten years in prison. [lxx]  The Red Choir quickly starts looking like an act of atonement reminiscent of Bless the Woman.  Its producer, Valerii Todorovskii, first had the idea of making the film fifteen years prior, yet just like the team who built Poor Nastia, he had no doubts about its contemporaneousness.  “This is a modern story.  The series we’ve made is also modern, and that’s really important.  Of course there were [past] prototypes and real people behind all of this, but nonetheless it’s a flight of fancy.  It’s a work of art, not a documentary.  The series was made to tell people a powerful story, to excite them.”

Some people were excited very quickly.  During filming in Paris “proper,” an elderly émigré roller-skated up to the crew and was told the film was about Trepper.  He skated up to Il'in, peered at his face and declared: “Looks like him.”  He then zipped off.[lxxi]   The director addressed these thin lines between fact and fiction, between individual and epoch.  In doing so, he slightly contradicted Todorovskii, thus blurring those lines even more:

Of course there’s an element of fantasy.  But most of the heroes, together with the basic events in their lives, are strictly documentary.  The characters act under their agents’ names, not their real ones, so we have the right to at least some artistic imagination.  Leopold Trepper himself used several names; one of them was Jean Gilbert and that’s what he is known as for the entire series.  And there’s his fundamental protagonist, too, a Gestapo officer—basically the man who broke the Red Choir wide open.  He appears under his actual name.[lxxii]

The one surviving member of the Choir, Anatolii Gurevich, was tracked down by the newspaper Izvestiia late in 2004.  As a real person watching a story that claimed to remake or explicate the actual experience of many people, he likewise found himself stuck between reality and ropey fiction, especially because he hated the negative portrayal of his (relatively) minor figure in the screenplay: “I just can’t see the series as anything artistic; it’s all tied too closely to my life.  I can’t relate to it as a historical work, either.  Not only because Kent (that’s my codename) is shown as a traitor.  It’s simply unbearable to see characters, my colleagues’ prototypes, in such primitive and silly stories.  I’m sure even the most naïve of viewers―who doesn’t know the historical context―will get the impression the Red Choir were a bunch of dilettantes.”[lxxiii]

Very many viewers said they were reminded of Soviet TV series and were glad The Red Choir was “free of all that ideology in Stalinist espionage films…  The characters are defined not by class consciousness but by universal humanism.”[lxxiv]  Gurevich, however, remained upset and penned an article, saying The Red Choir had more in common with the “style of James Bond” than the day-to-day tedium of spying (a quotidian emphasis nonetheless represented on occasion by antique-laden sets).  “What do we get at the end of the series?” asked Gurevich.  “Having taken real events and distorted them beyond recognition, the screenwriters have depicted a different life and different people.  The film’s creators didn’t meet with me (they knew that I’m still alive!).  They took it upon themselves to depict my life as they saw fit; the life of my comrades according to the authors’ daydreams.” [lxxv]  Gurevich’s supporters found time and space to voice the same bitter views on a state intelligence website.[lxxvi]  In representing history, the filmmakers had ignored the people who constituted it.  One overarching, post-Soviet idea appeared to be ignoring the “human facets” it declared to be saving.  People were less important than personalities; the idea of camaraderie overshadowed the actual comrades.  What of a purely literary bond, of fictitious lovers under Stalin, rather than Hitler?  

The Children of the Arbat (Deti Arbata, 2004)

The same passions seethed around the TV version of The Children of the Arbat (dir. Andrei Èshpai), even though sixteen years had passed since its publication (in essence the same period over which The Red Choir had kept its “contemporary relevance”).  The director said: “The political aspect of the novel might look a bit naïve today, so it wasn’t that important for us.  The characters’ destinies were much more significant; they haven’t aged at all, not even today.  We felt it was time to tell the story of one individual’s ability to keep things together in an appalling period; the ability to maintain a clarity of vision in freedom’s absence—to hold on to sincerity and some degree of self-worth.”[lxxvii]  Anatolii Rybakov’s novel of absent freedoms had been translated into 52 languages after its 1987 publication and the producers matched that scale with modern means: The Children of the Arbat cost approximately $300,000.  It included location work in Paris, Moscow, Tver' and Nizhnii Novgorod.[lxxviii]  As in The Red Choir, politics were supposedly sidestepped in favor of the personal:

The series takes place between 1934 and 1943.  It is a story that will lead the audience into the Kremlin’s offices, through the atmosphere of communal apartments, into both university auditoria and prison cells.  The Children of the Arbat will acquaint viewers with the life and daily routine of a Siberian village, with the towns of Russia’s provinces.  It ends with tragic events at the start of the Great Patriotic War.  The heroes of this tale are down-to-earth boys and girls from Moscow’s Arbat, together with people at the very pinnacle of political power: Stalin and his entourage, Soviet workers, the leaders of academic institutions and of grandiose construction projects.  This trilogy tells of all these people and of their spiritual worlds; it outlines their personalities and worldviews in a period that would become hugely significant for Russia’s destiny.

 Èshpai, despite his experience with the silver screen, was convinced that television could handle this scale by memories of his teacher at VGIK, Tat'iana Lioznova, who had made Seventeen Moments of Spring.  Musings on David Lynch’s Twin Peaks (1990) likewise persuaded him that TV could also maintain a sufficiently grand, cinematic quality.  In an interview with the magazine TV-Park, he repeated his disavowal of the political content that once made the narrative so famous:

Re-reading the novel today, I understood the most interesting thing is the interaction between the upper strata of political control and simple human destinies. Just think: so many lives were destroyed by one person’s will, by the movement of an eyebrow, an interjection or a throwaway phrase.  The theme of internal freedom among people “at the bottom of the pile” is very important here  The thing is, though, that freedom is hard to preserve nowadays, too, when individual choice―you’d think―actually has a wider range of options.  That’s why Rybakov’s characters are relevant now, just as they were then.[lxxix]

Something today is as nasty as it was yesterday and it threatens both families and lovers.  Èshpai credited the generation of the 1930s and 1940s with a greater willingness to “interact” or socialize candidly than in the present day, when all is deceitful ostentation.  TV could show the extent of that emotional openness in the face of malice.

15  Maksim Sukhanov made-up for the role of Stalin (The Children of the Arbat)

Removing deceit in the name of complex, open interaction meant, again as with The Red Choir, recognizing its historical context.  Using a work of fiction, therefore, was no escape from the need to reference an actuality which is always more complex than the bold designs of TV producers.  Fantasy needed (and needs) “fact”; primarily for Children of the Arbat this meant a convincing portrayal of Stalin.  Politics here were replaced by physiology.  The hiring of a suitable actor caused great difficulty and involved protracted discussions with well-known figures like Stanislav Govorukhin and Viacheslav Tikhonov.  Ultimately, however, the director chose Maksim Sukhanov, probably known best as a kindly, handicapped mobster in Land of the Deaf (Strana glukhikh, dir. Valerii Todorovskii, 1977).  Despite being bald, tall, and only 40 years old, Sukhanov was forced into history and the body of a hirsute, much shorter Stalin.  The cameramen worked hard to film him constantly from the highest possible angle, therefore downplaying the issue of physical stature.  Sukhanov, in actual fact, was such a difficult hiring that he was ready only when shooting was almost complete and, thus, had to be filmed outside the episodes’ “true” or logical order.  

Loftiness and chronology aside, Sukhanov also had trouble with the transformation of his face.  He does play Stalin in a very disturbing manner, all slouches and accented mumbling; the plastic skin covering his visage mirrors the theatricality of his “Georgian-ness.”  Though scheduling required that he work quickly towards the end of general production, he (with equal speed) admitted the unpleasantness of wearing a synthetic face overnight and, therefore, returned to more traditional (that is, slower and expensive) techniques: three or four hours each day with the make-up artists.[lxxx]  Subsequent critical assessments compared him unfavorably and unfairly to the most famous Stalins of Soviet cinema.

And so a troubled love story was ready to come to television, having waited 21 years to be published―and 38 years to be televised.  Despite all this attention to historical detail, it had hoped to move away from stressing Stalin alone.  The series’ producer, Andrei Kamorin, again drove home this point, lest we forget: “To say that Children of the Arbat is about Stalin is like saying that War and Peace is about Napoleon.”  A desire to preserve the narrative and emotional breadth of the work for love meant that this TV drama should not shrink in the presence of cinema’s actual breadth; the small screen needed to establish its own cinematic emphasis on detail (focus) and feeling (an atmospheric or ineffable “air”) to claim the literal scale of a big screen synecdochically: “From the very outset we tried to maintain a cinematic language, no matter how hard it’d be.  I think we were successful in creating the atmosphere and characters of a movie.  I’d never make a serial that didn’t have the air of a feature film.”[lxxxi]  Failure, said Kamorin, would come if focus swamped feeling, if history swamped sympathy for the little people who made it—and if the work was wrapped up in some pretension towards “a first-class Forsythe Saga with a ‘nod’ from the BBC.”[lxxxii]

With Stalin in place, though (as just one man, not an entire dogmatically-burdened saga), could the fantasy of little people go to work?  With a hopefully convincing socio-political counterweight, micro-political stories could perhaps proffer better versions of its workings.   How, then, did viewers react to the depiction of faithful lovers Sasha and Varia (Evgenii Tsyganov and Chulpan Khamatova)?  Some contributors to online TV forums noted a lyrical fluidity across sixteen episodes that managed to outpace the figure of Stalin altogether.  One love story used and then dispensed with the politicking of one leader: “I love relaxing[!] to the series.  It’s so easy to watch—no effort at all.  Things always finish in a way that you want to watch the next episode.”[lxxxiii] 

Yet dissatisfaction, on the other hand, occasionally emerged whenever a historically (contextually) accurate mood was totally absent.  Some emotional states and their depiction were felt to be too modern.  Something was being redone, and faultily.  Several of the young people playing Komsomol members, for example, were called “hooligans”: “It’s there in the book, in black and white: ‘Open faces, radiant eyes.’  But here there’s nothing except cynicism or really bad overacting.  Where can you find any other kind of face today, though?”  The “faces of young people today, in 2004,” were no happy alternative, but “there’s nothing you can do about it…”[lxxxiv]  The ongoing, spirited need by a TV station to emphasize a generation’s passion led to overkill with the music, too, because “music [always] dictates a viewer’s feelings” and the sound engineers were a bit overbearing.  Emotionally, then, there might be problems whenever history was totally suspended, but at least the show looked well-funded and had its heart in the right place; at least it was “basically well filmed.  And without promoting all that kind of American chernukha.”[lxxxv]  It was respectful.

When all was said and done, literary reputation had inspired a series dedicated to the maintenance of that reputation.  In addition and consequently, Children of the Arbat expressed that respectful desire in a hopeful representation of reality as realia (as a physically similar dictator, promised by the producers).  The actors do much to struggle against that archaic emphasis, though, and push love to the forefront—in particular Khamatova, who together with Tsyganov enacts in the series’ closing episodes one of the most impassioned scenes of love in recent Russian drama.  The life-threatening danger of maintaining private (in fact, often illegal) passion in a time of public, objectified fervor is so feral in its expression that the cameraman can barely keep up.  Bodies throw themselves against bare, hollow walls with such disorder that the resulting shots of Tysganov and Khamatova give voice to people more beaten than loved, an image that comes back to haunt us in the very last frames.  Can the feeling ever escape the physical world, be contemporarily relevant and yet not look false?  

Two Fates (Dve sud'by, 2002)

Perhaps the best example of a romantically-driven TV drama that did not draw upon classic literature or fact, but nonetheless aimed for an emotionally absorbing, cinematic sweep in Russia’s twentieth century was Two Fates (dir. Valerii Uskov and Vladimir Krasnopol'skii).  It takes a step further away from Soviet (shared, remembered) actuality than Children of the Arbat in that its love stories are set in Soviet contexts, but employ those contexts only indirectly. 

16: Poster for Two Fates

The closing reference here to things national may make us cringe in anticipation of more politics, but the fates of Vera and Lida (Ekaterina Semenova and Anezhelika Vol'skaia) are very clearly foregrounded.  The series dragged some people away from socio-political reality with dramatic consequence, especially in a couple of Belarusian villages.  Three times in a row, as locals sat down to watch Two Fates, a building somewhere nearby caught fire.  The cause of the fires remained a mystery, though some people thought that nouveaux riches were using the empty streets during a very popular show to burn down houses—and then buy the land cheaply.[lxxxvi]  

Based upon two popular novels by Semen Malkov, Ransom (Shantazh) and Retribution (Rasplata), the broadcasts clearly contained enough successfully chosen elements to keep villagers indoors and produce Moscow investors willing to fund a second series.  In today’s blurb for those future advertisers, we hear about “dramatic intrigue, dynamic action, and romantic conflict.  All of this excites readers from the very first frames of the series.  Semen Malkov, a delicate psychologist and linguistic master, has drawn the world of our contemporaries with unusual focus and brilliance.  This all finds voice in the screenplay’s details and skillfully crafted dialog.”[lxxxvii]


At the center of the film are two tales of two women [Vera and Lida]. These village girlfriends in the early 1960s have their lives ahead of them; they are both young and beautiful. The Party’s regional representative starts courting Vera seriously; Lida is not short of male attention, either. It seems their destinies are thus decided for many years hence. But everything is changed by the arrival of a specialist from Moscow, Stepan. Seeing him for the first time, Vera understands that this is love. Lida decides to use her chance [that is, to manipulate Stepan] and move to Moscow. As so often happens, a friendship between women is ruined because of men. These complex, interwoven predicaments start unwinding in totally unpredictable ways. Masks are removed, revealing the truth―and thus pulling more and more new characters into a whirlpool of events. Our heroines cherish both their dreams and their love through many years. Their private lives develop both dramatically and unexpectedly against the backdrop of the nation’s complex destiny.

17: Two Fates

Investors were no doubt pleased to learn that the screenplay was written by Valerii Uskov and Valdimir Krasnopol'skii, who had brought Russia the airline drama Beyond Jurisdiction (Nepodsuden, 1969), plus Shadows Vanish at Noon and An Eternal Summons, mentioned earlier.[lxxxviii]  Succumbing, however, to the sad, swift “rhythm” of TV work, Uskov and Krasnopol'skii were by now pumping out two complete drama series per season, including the lengthy Nina (2001), discussed below.  Some viewers sensed the spirit of a TV Taylorism: “It looks like a cheap woodcut with all the signs of some weepy Mexican serial transferred to Russian soil…  The characters’ experiences are so contrived, all the way from their love affairs to your obligatory historical chronicle that’s stuck in from time to time (Afghanistan, the Putsch, etc.).  It’s nothing more than ‘serial feelings’ and it moves like a typical serial through the plot lines, too.”[lxxxix]  Despite this complaint, the show does prove that viewers will happily watch romance dramas according to criteria other than historical realia, other than period costumes, plastic faces, or the right furniture.  This is absolutely crucial.

If looking real is so important to producers, though, how much money is possibly left to fund quality screenplays and sets, in particular when the best-known thespians can take home $5,000 per day?  Ratings (as always) have to be considered, since every percentage ratings point today means more cash from advertisers tomorrow.  By way of example, a series with a miserly one-percent share can command $2,000 for a 30-second commercial.  A show with a 10% share over a one-hour episode can bring in $300-400,000.  An “encore showing” the next morning will conjure more cash still, as of course will later videos and any subsequent sale of the show in toto to another channel.  What does not manifest itself today is a large amount of scripts, hence another reason for the fuss over Uskov and Krasnopol'skii.  Perhaps because television screenwriters often receive little for their work (and so much is being spent on spectacular verisimilitude), TV stations are repeatedly obliged to screen a large percentage of the material offered them by studios, material that is―as we know―itself produced under time constraints.[xc] 

Stations need primetime series like Two Fates, but even if they order them (that is, if they order precisely what they want), channels habitually cannot fund those dramas to a desired “spectacular” level because they make money from advertising when (that is, after) the serials are shown.  This logic suggests that a rough period could be overcome if investment was offered in the short term.  Indeed, three years ago (in 2002) TV advertising brought in $900 million.  By 2003 that figure rose to $1.3 billion and estimates for 2004 have suggested $1.78 billion.  As money appeared, the production of TV series did not slow down—and the funds needed to “guarantee” a higher quality for future projects started coming in.  But it seems so far that nobody in the living room cares that much about “quality.”  The emotional aspect of scenarios needs to be historically accurate, not the costumes, domestic interiors, or make-up.

If so, maybe the success of the cheaper romantic melodramas (the success of thoughts and feeling over objects and locales) suggests there is no need to make classy detective and action serials all the time?  Some chat-room pundits certainly thought so, but wondered how an emotively-driven, often “pure” heroine might relate to the varnished figures of prior prose.  In other words, if perfect people are more important than perfect places, does that not start to sound a little reminiscent of prior, varnished decades? 

This tradition [in Two Fates] of depicting the hero in social-psychological terms has become daily bread for Russian viewers. Even if it looks a bit schematic, it is about those viewers’ lives. It helps people to get their bearings in very troubled times. Looking at these heroines, though, I suddenly recalled that I was never very fond of [socialism’s] positive heroes. It’s so strange to see almost exclusively perfect characters in a twenty-first-century serial. It’s so peculiar. Do people really have the same spiritual life as these heroines nowadays? Do they have principles? Some might say they’re one-sided heroines. In reply I’ll say: “So be it, I enjoy their company.”[xci]

The sentimental, if not loving contact with characters themselves in love was the series’ raison d’être, its core tenet.  An article in the The Literary Gazette compared Two Fates to the expensive mafia epic The Brigade (see below) and asked why on earth Russian critics and academics (not viewers) expressed a clear preference for the latter, much flashier serial.  The sarcasm here is pronounced: “The Brigade is more dynamic, more striking, more shocking.  But what about its ideas?  Who needs ideas in an age that has none, anyway!  We’ve got freedom!”[xcii]  Despite critics preferring visual qualities to match something Western, the cheaper, emotional clout of Two Fates was so strong outside the scholarly community that rumors abounded of high-ranking police officers secretly hooked on the series (and who would on occasion break out in tears!).  One acquaintance of lead actress Anzhelika Vol'skaia called her on the telephone with a similarly private response: “Likochka, d’you know what I’m doing now?  I’m sobbing my eyes out…”[xciii]

            Romantically or sentimentally-driven historical serials, by providing connections between then and now, help to stabilize the passage of time.  That stability is not contingent upon a well-funded ability to show the past, but a well-intentioned ability to empathize with it.  One could side with viewers here and suggest that any steady, heartfelt connections are the workings of an apolitical social network that often makes TV drama, rather than just receiving it.  Given, however, the state’s ownership of ORT shares and the less-than-charitable workings of market-driven media, this may be the clever matching and manipulation of viewers’ recognizable desires, rather than any homespun process in the hands of TV watchers themselves.  Growing skepticism among Russia’s elderly citizens over state altruism during the pension reforms of 2004 hints that the distance from public endorsement to cynicism may never be that far, even in traditionally autocratic realms.   

18 Vladislav Galkin in Beyond the Wolves

There have certainly been other historical series of late—such as Beyond the Wolves—which would prompt the public to think hesitantly or cynically about the workings (and our “real” knowledge) of the past.  Starring the ever-engaging Valentin Gaft, this series with relative speed (188 minutes) relates a detective’s labor during the wet month of March 1946, in a village near Moscow.  A solidly built investigator (the ubiquitous Vladislav Galkin), just back from the Front, is sent by his superiors to discover whether some recent and savage murders are, as superstitious locals insist, committed by a werewolf.  Suspicion and rumor in the village slowly increase prejudice against one severely retarded resident, cared for by Gaft’s character.  Charity, love, and attention are the only defense against others’ angry ideas and their concomitant social insecurity, which becomes life-threatening: “The series is a mix of mystical horror, a detective series, and the horrors of Stalinism.  All the time you’re thinking: Is there really a werewolf or is this crime merely the product of cold human reasoning?”[xciv]  The romantic drama and the charitable, attentive emotions aroused can outline a modus operandi that finds application far beyond romance itself.  Can they do so beyond money, though?  

2: Cash and the Big City

Life Lines (Linii sud'by, 2003) and Hope Leaves Last (Nadezhda ukhodit poslednei, 2004)

              So what of love and attention amid the power of money, since capital (through fashion) fosters insecurity by destabilizing traditions, social roles, and private plans?  What is the role of inexpensive melodrama in the world’s third most expensive city?  The prototype of so many TV series in this rubric, Moscow Does Not Believe in Tears, is actually not associated today with acquisitiveness, neither thematically nor in terms of its director’s future wealth.  Vladimir Men'shov says he made no profit from the Moscow family drama: “Not a penny.”  This is despite the fact it was seen by 85 million people, played in 20 Moscow movie theaters simultaneously, was purchased by 100 nations, and even took $2.5 million at the US box office (after savvy American distributors bought it for a mere $50,000).[xcv]  Today’s tales of Moscow, set in similarly familial contexts, are darker and emotionally harsh because patterns of career, profit, loss, and gain are no longer hidden.  

19 Sergei Garmash in Life Lines

The ensuing opposites of “family and fiscal pressures,” “individual and city,” “small and large,” or “inside and out,” constitute the dominant structures in this rubric of Russian television drama.  The tale of a provincial figure (literal or metaphorical) who makes his/her way into the capital (or any other center of desire) is, in fact, so widespread that it requires subcategories, perhaps by degrees of success―in other words, where the hero or heroine finds themselves on the road to accomplishment.  We will therefore briefly sketch three such subgroups: TV series set at the bottom of urban society, tales of scrappy ascent, and, finally, narratives of vertiginous fame and fortune.

One of the most impressive stories of love-hungry bottom-feeders is Life Lines, produced by Valerii Todorovskii and directed by Dmitrii Meskhiev.  Todorovskii has explained his own understanding of Russia’s centripetal social movement: “We live in a country that moves in forceful, often bloody ways.  It doesn’t always comprehend its own direction—neither the price to be paid nor the number of its victims.  Nonetheless it does move and, when all is said and done, that movement has to result in something.”[xcvi]  In dramatizing patterns of social mobility, Todorovskii hoped to avoid the principled triteness of stories designed, as he put it, to clarify “Ten Ways to Improve Your Life.”  Aiming, therefore for some kind of verisimilitude without the narrow focus of a principled pamphlet, he called Life Lines “a huge modern novel”:

The main heroine here is, of course, Fate, that inimitable scoundrel and magician.  Early one morning our provincial heroes step onto Moscow soil, both scared and full of bright hope.  Yet they cannot imagine what awaits each of them within a month.  The renowned movie director Dmitrii Meskhiev (a newcomer of sorts, since this is his first serial) describes this brand new project as “a film about provincials and Muscovites.  About people who’ve arrived in Moscow and try to establish a life in this beautiful and terrifying city.  For some of them, things come together easily and simply; for others all hopes are dashed.  The destinies of newcomers and Muscovites crisscross.  For some this will be a fleeting encounter; for others it means a life-long relationship.”

Viewers were impressed by this intricate crisscrossing of plot lines, but wondered if so much attention had been paid to artistry that veracity, in the most mundane sense, had fallen through the cracks.  One example offered was the odd speed with which a married wounded officer—played by Sergei Garmash—is granted an apartment (and the speed with which that same, barren apartment is then decorated for the couple).[xcvii]  Considering that the series touches upon all forms of love (familial, paternal, sibling, and even extra-marital), the types of desire that drive such connections were swamped by an unfeasible art, by slightly forced contrivances.  That skill was not even exclusively optimistic, for the drama does much to outline radical compromises that dreamers make in Moscow, such as the on-stage career of Konstantin Khabenskii’s singing hero.  Nonetheless, documentary values were occasionally replaced by the arcane elegance of “fated” interaction.  

  20 Nonna Grishaeva (right) in Hope Leaves Last

Validating a narrative technique over sometimes-displeasing reality is a stance that obviously runs the risk of undermining emotive veracity.  This loss of likelihood is equally evident in a more recent STS series that debuted in the winter of 2004, Hope Leaves Last (dir. Evgenii Sokolov): “Has your husband dumped you?  Have you been fired?  Have tricksters and scoundrels grabbed your apartment—while you’ve ended up in prison?  Never give up!  You can always find a way out of the most difficult situations.  The main thing is never to lose spirit, your sense of humor, or your sense of self-worth.”[xcviii]  A bighearted, bold humor runs through the series’ romantic stories, underwritten primarily by the wide-eye pantomiming of Nonna Grishaeva, but any such offhanded jollity may, paradoxically, be the gift of those who have nothing to hope for.  The loveless can crack a joke or two, since there’s nothing else to do.  People facing the risk of choice, however, cannot afford always to look on the bright side of life, hence the greater misery of both romantic and kindly subplots in Life Lines.

An Ideal Couple (Ideal'naia para, 2001) and Request Stop (Ostanovka po trebovaniiu, 2000)

This capital strain (in several senses) of emotionally-driven series leans somewhat heavily on the 2001 drama An Ideal Couple, directed by Alla Surikova and starring Aleksandr Baluev with Alla Kliuka, who is recognized now more for her TV work on Dar'ia Dontsova’s detective series than anything from her late Soviet filmography.  The drama tells of two foreign tricksters far from Moscow who come to Russia, finding both love and financial intrigue as they do so.  It enjoys such a following even today that the moderators of several chat rooms sometimes need to calm people down: “Please don’t post things like ‘Super!’ ‘Best of all,’ ‘Don’t like it,’ ‘Get off!’ and so forth.  We’ll delete those posts and leave only what’s genuinely interesting.  Anything offensive or rude will be removed at once!  And don’t put much faith in short messages sent from one and the same computer, either; trust a range of messages from a range of people.”[xcix]

In 2001 several actors—like Baluev—started popping up with increasing frequency and success.  Work was available and dramas picked up speed.  As the public’s attention turned from cinema screens to television sets, journalists wondered if TV might even become “the salvation of Russian cinema,” having recovered from the default so quickly.[c]  Cultural deliverance lay, in this case, in the hands of two love-struck criminals, who—opposed to any prior, honorable heroes—“care nothing for eternal life.  They’d prefer to get everything they can here, in this life.”  Surikova was keen to point out in interviews, however, that these were principled thieves, “the grandchildren of Robin Hood!”[ci]  Criminality existed willy-nilly, so love could purportedly teach one crook to steal from another (worse) felon, thus putting immoral gains to moral ends.

Faced, after the start of the new millennium, with hour after hour of Russia’s expensively-commissioned (and greed-prompting) version of Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?, viewers, however, saw a sad irony in the promotion of crooks.  “It hurts to admit that these kind of people are The Heroes of Our Time.”[cii]  Even in love, these amorous tricksters couldn’t live up to the ideals of Iurii Detochkin from Riazanov’s classic comedy Look Out for the Car (Beregis' avtomobilia, 1966).  That man had stolen in the name of orphaned children.  Love and lucre were not always a perfect fit.

At approximately the same time, Request Stop debuted on ORT in an attempt to conjure a latter-day Detochkin with reasonable odds of victory.  The promotional rhetoric used a few years later when the series was sold to REN-TV makes this more than clear.  Here is Aleksei Slapovskii’s perfect skeleton for the perfect post-Soviet drama, even playing with a phrase or two from Mexican serials as it ponders the role of love amid socio-economic turmoil:

We’ve not yet come to our senses, but life has already dragged us off in all kids of directions. Nothing but princes and paupers, queens and Cinderellas, the rich (who “also cry”) and the poor (who also laugh). Without even going anywhere, we’ve suddenly ended up in different worlds. And people from different worlds don’t usually cross paths. Yet sometimes those paths do cross in chance and strange ways, leading to the most unpredictable consequences. At a certain request stop on the outskirts of a typical Russian town, that is, at a place where the bus driver will only stop if you really ask him to, a mild-mannered man stands in the rain. His name is Smirnov. He has decided to go to his mother’s place after a minor spat with his wife Natasha. A beautiful woman, Irina, drives past in her beautiful car from a beautiful life. She’s business-like, liberated, and independent (there was a husband, but he got sick of it all). She drives her car through a puddle (accidentally) and soaks poor Smirnov from head to toe. She’d only have to laugh and drive on … yet either from some whim or a sudden act of genuine kindness she picks up Smirnov, takes him home, dries him off, and warms him up. Then she releases him back into the world. She wasn’t attracted to him—after all, he does have a few odd quirks. He gets totally drunk after a single glass of wine and faints if anybody shouts at him…[ciii]

21 Dmitrii Pevstov and Anna Bol'shova in Request Stop

This odd couple grows closer and closer to love, for he brings her a charming, sometimes dangerous naivety in a world where benevolence and charity are rarely a good (or profitable) idea.  When we take these disarming innocents and transfer them into society, Smirnov (Dmitrii Pevstov) and Irina (Ol'ga Drozdova) are often defined through gendered expectations or sweeping generalizations, as noted earlier: kind women help and improve rough men through romance.  Conversely, kind men like Smirnov might fix strong women.  They could fix the post-perestroika, haggish and hard-hearted female bosses of the song “Working Woman” (Delovaia zhenshchina) by Laima Vaikule and Valerii Leont'ev way back in 1986.  She says: You!  You there!  Why are you sleeping at work?”  He replies: “I was visiting my friends yesterday.   Dancing, too.  I’m very sorry!”  Cities can do something unnatural to those in love.  

  Another Life (Drugaia zhizn', 2003), A Bomb for the Bride (Bomba dlia nevesty, 2004) and I Love You (Ia tebia liubliu, 2004)

A good example of this modern, iron lady of the big city is offered by Another Life (dir. Elena Raiskaia), a tale of Moscow-bound provincials starring ORT morning TV host Ekaterina Strizhenova as a TV host.[civ]  Juxtaposed with the capital (by a four-hour drive) is a tiny village, where a woman with child and motorcycle-collecting husband suddenly feels very disappointed by her fate.  She decides to look for love and a better address, and thus instigates a story that evokes sympathy for those stuck in the lifeless provinces, while criticizing their occasional recourse to desperation.  The director and screenwriter, Elena Raiskaia, hoped that Another Life would survive in the sea of dramatic serials for three reasons: first, because “Life can actually be interesting without gunfights and criminals”; second, because “Viewers will never tire of the relationships between a man and a woman”; and, finally, because “We’ve found a new narrative form here.  Our series is one big talk show, where the heroines each tell their story.”[cv]  The series uses a celebrity to play a celebrity and as a result, the romance remains far from most people’s normality.  The same is true of A Bomb for the Bride (dir. Aleksandr Pavlovskii), which employs Vladimir Vishnevskii as a game-show host and singer Iuliia Nachalova as a singer.  That show is supposed to help couples win cash and prizes they will need to improve their new, shared bank accounts.[cvi]  


22 Ekaterina Strizhenova (left), star of Another Life

23 Iuliia Nachalova in A Bomb for the Bride

24 Mariia Shukshina in I Love You

A similar focus upon the individual within Moscow’s upward socialization comes in the series of 2004, I Love You (dir. Viacheslav Krishtofovich), a rather banal title that sadly resulted from dropping the original designation of Ekaterina Vil'mont’s novel, I Want a Babe on Rollerskates! (Khochu babu na rolikakh!).

For many years, the heroine of this series was only… a wife.  Caring, faithful, and dedicated.  She [Aleksandra] loved her husband, a well-known actor, without reservation and assumed he felt the same way.  It turned out, however, that things weren’t quite so sunny; in an instant her secure world falls apart.  How hard it is to start all over again!  But she gets through all the hardships, showing exceptional character as she becomes happy, famous, and wealthy...  And, most importantly, love—the main thing in life—will warm her heart once again.

Starring another member of the Shukshin family, the statuesque daughter Mariia, this story starts with marital pressures caused when her actor-husband suddenly becomes an overnight success in an Italian production and is thus surrounded by hordes of young female fans.  Chance visits the husband, leaving the wife with only (tough) choices.  The popular magazine TV-Seven (Telesem') was willing even mid-series to put its faith in her fate, rather than worry about the choice of infidelity made by her husband (Iaroslav Boiko).  Destiny and doubt are all mixed up.  “Will Sasha be successful?  Yes, of course! …  A new life, new love, and wonderful perspectives.” [cvii]  The underlying idea that fate decides all and happiness is synonymous with fame (requiring no more than patience) led to significant audience sympathy.  “The serial really kept my interest. It seems I experience all the blows in Aleksandra’s fate together with her.”[cviii]  Those blows, however, are often countered by Aleksandr Abdulov’s character, offering sage advice, fidelity, and loads of money or love from the sidelines.  Likelihood here looks unlikely.  

Side by Side with Love (Parallel’no liubvi, 2004), Society Pages (Svetskie khroniki, 2002), and Polka-Dot Heaven (Nebo v goroshek, 2003)

I Love You, incidentally, is far from the only romantic serial in which Abdulov plays a fairy godfather.  This role is a troubling one in the romantic melodrama, for it suggests that the grandest love needs the biggest bank account, and here we slip into some of the beachfront banalities of the telenovela.  In Side by Side with Love, mentioned at the outset of this article, money, Muscovite (criminal) acumen, and political clout are all terribly sexy.  The serial is remarkable in that its hero, played by Igor' Lifanov, offers without contest the most browbeaten protagonist of any romantic drama.  Though now very successful, as a child he was dragged into a world of child slavery, pedophilia, and snuff movies.  Lifanov himself, the star of many action series on television, here moves in his own romantic biography from less than nothing to everything—yet we see none of this happening.  People just happen to be rich and just happen to save the occasional heroine.  It was all just supposed to happen, given time.  

  25 Polka-Dot Heaven

The same is true of Society Pages (dir. Valerii Zelenskii and Andrei Kuznetsov), which although involving the adventures of a magazine staff “behind the scenes of bohemia,” revolves around the growing love between a famous photographer and a TV host.  Before their friendship even starts looking like a romance, we have what the promotional materials aptly call a “beautiful couple.”  Things are the way they are.  Another series that ends in equally well-financed happiness whilst incorporating the provincial thematic is Polka-Dot Heaven (dir. Vladimir Balkashinov).[cix]  It both plays upon the type of centripetal tales outlined so far and acquires a second “provincial” aspect in that it was filmed and funded by the Ukrainian TV industry.  Here the Moscow heroine moves away from the capital and finds both financial and familial success.[cx]  Perhaps this was why the series would hopefully mark the “renaissance of Ukrainian cinema.”[cxi]  Not only was filming south of the border cheaper, but the crew did not even wait for seasons specified in the screenplay.  Consequently autumnal scenes were shot in fur coats—when in actuality the outdoor temperature was over 30 degrees Celsius.[cxii]

Sweating all the way, the actors and actresses plowed through an eight-episode series in two months, producing the dramatic tale of an innocent’s education in the world of greed and greenbacks.  “It all begins with a train accident.  The main heroine (Klavdiia) finds a baby girl (Zhenia) by the riverside.  Somehow this youngster has survived the catastrophe.  Klavdiia takes Zhenia to a hospital in the nearest small town.  Not long afterwards she adopts the girl and establishes the town’s first casino.”[cxiii]  The DVD’s blurb fleshed out this mysterious brevity:

A young and enterprising woman from Moscow, Klavdiia, having amassed a decent sum of money, leaves the capital once and for all.  She sets off for the provinces in order to bring them civilization.  She starts by opening a casino in a small town.  The provincial residents meet this Moscow guest somewhat coldly, with distrust and caution, and then the people who lose their income to Klavdiia’s casino enter into direct conflict with her.  A woman will always find the strength of endurance within her, though, despite all the scheming of her enemies and any failures in her private life.  Klavdiia manages to re-establish the club after it is burnt down―and at the same time raise a little girl she found as a toddler on the side of the road.  Similarly, she also manages to discover, at long last, her “other half” and starts living happily.    

If this is starting to sound a bit silly or far from feasibility, TV audiences thought so, too.[cxiv]  Given the fatalism (or mysterious destinies) outlined thus far that viewers often seem to accept, any wild manipulation of another social realm will seem rather unconvincing.  “There’s one crowd scene in the casino bar, where everybody’s smiling and happily dancing along to some criminal song, that does nothing more than underline the crisis in this TV genre.  Where can you find a casino were the public smiles so much—and applauds the artiste?”[cxv]


Dear Masha Berezina (Dorogaia Masha Berezina, 2004)

Moneyed, deterministic dramas are most spectacularly represented by the condescension of Dear Masha Berezina (dir. Ekaterina Dvigubskaia, Petr Krotrenko, Stanislav Libin, and Aleksandr Smirnov), a series blessed with the most ostentatious of websites.  Worryingly fond of its own affectedness, the site—among other bells and whistles—intends to bless a few viewers with a rare chance to enter its world, either virtually (real-time chat with the actors) or temporarily (a small walk-on part in the series).  The opportunity to be blessed by that which cannot be freely chosen leaves the prizes’ recipients shell-shocked, especially one young man:

I want to be famous.  I know people like turning women into celebrities, but that’s so unfair!  How are men any worse?  I’m such a great fan of movies, too.  I watch all the new releases…  Starring in a TV series, it seems to me, will be a great way to start showing myself “on stage.”  I must say, though, that I’m not an actor—and never will be—but it’ll be interesting to try myself in this role, to see myself on the screen and in the company of stars.  It’ll be a new experience, so why not?[cxvi]

26 Anna Azarova as Dear Masha Berezina

The chat room passions were occasionally just as fervent in their defense of gloss: “WHY D’YOU KEEP COMPLAINING ABOUT AN'KA FOR?  SHE’S A SUPER HEROINE AND IF YOU DON’T LIKE HER, THAT’S YOUR OWN OPINION—SO KEEP IT TO YOURSELF…!”  Yet the comeback lacked no verve: “IT’S CRAP: I just don’t like this serial.  It’s too much like films from Hollywood.  ‘Romance à la Hollywood.’  Basically it’s utter shit.”[cxvii]  The centripetal, but very un-provincial tale of model Masha returning to Moscow after the catwalks of Paris, Milan, and London was―like Poor Nastia—shot using American technology and cost about $100K per episode.  Parallels between the two series can be further justified because many of the budgetary and teamwork figures coincide.  Jumping each and every time to meet these new, expensive benchmarks, Parisian scenes would be shot exclusively in Paris (not Riga) and only the finest hotels, banks, bars, and shops would be employed for Moscow episodes.[cxviii]  

What is interesting, however, is how the series’ rigid thematic stereotypes, offered viewers from afar (culturally speaking), were contradicted by its structure.  The producers stayed barely ahead of each broadcast date, altering storylines according to audience reaction(s).  This approach, though stressful, allowed episodes to reference recent events directly, such as Mariia Sharapova’s Wimbledon victory in the summer of 2004.  Viewers did not want anything except happy material, no matter its unattainability in a lofty class.  As the main actress, Anna Azarova, noted in an interview for the magazine Your Leisure Time (Vash dosug): “We’re filming a fairy tale about a beautiful life.  Beautiful people, cars, clothes, homes, and love.  We’re all already tired of the negativity in our own reality.  When I myself go home tired after work and push a button on the TV remote, I feel I need a fairy tale, too.”[cxix]  It was hoped that the needs of beauty-starved viewers would increase both audience share and creative activity at STS.  In 2004 the channel ran 27 series in its schedules, as opposed to 87 on Rossiia.[cxx]

Keen to start its salvation with a bang, STS planned the debut of this A-Media/Sony Pictures epic right after the final whistle of 2004’s European Football Championship.  The opening credits might therefore reach the 100 million viewers who could not reach for the remote fast enough.[cxxi]  Given the tedium of that final match, STS’s audience was no doubt keen on excitement, in fact $6,000,000 worth—“a budget to make Isaura the Slave or Kamenskaia jealous!”[cxxii]  An unreal financial plan, piggy-backing on Europe’s greatest sporting event; an unreal plot and fairytale resources.  Dear Masha Berezina soon overshadowed any kind of contact with the outside world on a human scale.  STS even placed a clock in the corner of the television screen, counting down to the 21:00 start of the series.  The clock looked remarkably similar to the same logo used by other channels to remind viewers of impending daily news broadcasts.[cxxiii]   Masha Berezina would tell you all you need to know about the world…


3: Heroines Moved by Men, their Business, or Destiny Itself

Beloved (Zhelannaia, 2003) and Nina (2001)

Despite the unavoidably vague lines separating our rubrics, it seems both reasonable and productive to divide heroines struggling with an urban destiny, social objectification, or marital convention into three groups: those of the past, those of the present, and those thrown back and forth―either metaphorically or literally (that is, by the financial machinations of railway systems and airlines, for example).  The 2003 series Beloved (dir. Iurii Kuz'menko) outlined the first of these groups as an unruly desire from someone’s history:

27 Ol'ga Vechkileva in Beloved

The present day.  On her sixtieth birthday Mariia Grigor'eva receives an envelope from a stranger.  Inside she finds a ring and an open letter signed with the pseudonym “Your Sweet Little Hedgehog.”  Mariia recalls that she used the nickname for all her numerous lovers.  She is mentally transported to the past in order to understand who could have sent her such a touching letter…

Based, yet again, on a novel with a more interesting title (Iurii Perov’s The Full-Figured Beauty [Prekrasnaia tolstushka]), the series juxtaposes personal passions with the room for movement afforded by social convention.  Kuz'menko maintains Beloved could, therefore, never have been screened during the Soviet period,[cxxiv] if for no other reason than it shows a woman passing through a great number of sexual relationships, one of which involves a political figure (clearly based on Beriia) exercising his fantasy in tights and a tutu.  These oddities, hidden from the public eye, are combined with equal, ever-present attempts to capture forgotten, once-evident details from daily life, in particular in terms of domestic furnishings.  The problem of a reality felt or remembered versus “stuff” comes back.  The series’ artistic director, Valentin Gidulianov, also worked on The Rendezvous is Set and—just as before—spent endless hours scouring antique shops.  Likewise, in the first few episodes Mariia (Ol'ga Vechkileva) is only fifteen years old and to resurrect her private and public age, costume designers took her dress patterns directly from magazine cut-outs of the 1950s.[cxxv]

This objectification of Mariia’s dizzying affairs amid archived magazines, paper cut-outs, and bric-a-brac also occurs as textual reductionism.  The number of her (already numerous) affairs with men in the series is less than in the novel; additional lesbian adventures were also cut from the TV version.  Her early attempts to instigate a miscarriage and avoid marriage are much less dramatic on screen, reduced to jumping down from chairs and cupboards, time after time.[cxxvi]  Even the psychological horror of Beriia (Viktor Sukhorukov) is made ridiculous rather than criminal.[cxxvii]  This desire to show desire yet keep it free from excess or excessive political intrigue is evident in quite a few television shows.  Heroines are scattered amid objects and others’ objectionable behavior, but they often remain separate from the extremes of what, ironically, is real life.  Much is hinted at (by analogy or banality); almost nothing troublingly explicit is named.

The 2001 romance Nina is a good example.  It tells—not unlike I Love You—of a woman’s rise and fall (and rise again) in the worlds of business and love, yet the latter barely manages with great effort to elude the shadow of the former in the plot.  Promoters felt (no doubt correctly) that an avoidance of excess would make the series maximally palatable: “The basic dramatic intrigue here will keep both guys and gals happy…  [T]here’s the favorite combination of your typical, sexually repressed Laura Croft fan: spirited action with some bandit punch-ups and a sensual heroine—who every now and then needs to extricate herself from some ‘spicy’ situation or other.”  Almost magically, the heroine always manages to “preserve a sense of virginal honor” and find romance, too.  By using a little of everything (but nothing much in particular), the “punch-ups won’t get dull and there won’t be too much weeping going on.”[cxxviii]  Specificity did not seem profitable and the plot outline used for domestic sales similarly condenses both generic sampling and vague social groups to the point of childishness or, to be honest, illogicality and incomprehensibility:

 Famous model Nina adores her profession; she is a loving mother and a faithful wife.  Her life, however, changes radically after the disappearance of her husband Sasha.  A happy life and career are lost forever.  A meeting with Mikhail resurrects her hope for happiness and love.  All is going well, but Aleksandr suddenly appears from nowhere.  The weight of the past changes her life yet again. [cxxix] 

28: Nina


A Passenger without Baggage (Passazhir bez bagazha, 2003), The Station (Vokzal, 2003) and Heaven and Earth (Nebo i zemlia, 2003-2004)

This simple, building-block plot, pushing lovers from unit to unit, is sometimes expressed physically—on trains, for example.  In A Passenger without Baggage (REN-TV), a young woman is horrified to discover than her husband has hanged himself on the night train between St. Petersburg and Moscow.  Here we make the uncomplicated step from the end of a romance into the detective story.   Love―barely hinted at in early references―drives the subsequent criminal investigation.  The heroine cares because she once cared:

It all begins with the suicide of a completely level-headed man.  Why did a photographer from a modest studio decide to end his life on the Petersburg to Moscow train?  He was found in the carriage toilet, hanging from a camera strap.  Right away his wife Iana must explain the conditions surrounding this bizarre fatality.  In the course of her subsequent amateur investigation, some secret negatives pop up—of course—together with an equally secret woman and a large amount of money.  It turns out that the husband had amassed terrible debts and was even forced to sell his parents’ dacha.  Then death starts claiming the employees of the husband’s innocent studio—with both precision and brutality.  Iana’s investigation reveals that some unknown criminals want to frame her.  Evidence left at crime scenes points to her indubitable guilt.  Now she absolutely has to figure out the circumstances surrounding her husband’s death, to remove all suspicion from herself, if nothing else.

29 A Passenger Without Baggage

30 Ekaterina Guseva in Heaven and Earth

 This story (the first of three based on an Anna Malysheva novel) consists of four episodes.  Each series was shot by a different director, leaving Malysheva’s broken-hearted heroines floating between varied executive desires and genres: psychological drama, detective tales, and a thriller.[cxxx]  This type of complex interaction between simple units is seen elsewhere and multiplied many times over in the more “kinetic” railway-series The Station (dir. Andrei Kavun).  Filmed primarily in a Minsk terminal, the show was criticized by the actual employees of the station for being emotionally engaging yet “virtually criminal” in its ignorance of actuality, such as the screenplay’s shunting-yard regulations, which dictate the movement of rolling stock on screen.  A local newspaper published a very long article to show that small, specific actuality (ignored by the series but everywhere in the actual station) was no less interesting, all the way from trouble with the homeless to helping an abandoned baby or a recent adventure with $8,500 left anonymously in a safe deposit box:[cxxxi] 

Here the paths of regular local people and successful businessmen all crisscross; nimble thieves and wayward girls, the lives of tramps and eternally nomadic gypsies, thrown in the gutter.  Any station is made of endless meetings and departures; constant expectation and an endless road.  A station is not made of buildings and trains, but of passengers and employees.  A station is everyday life, flowing before our eyes yet simultaneously hidden from us all…

The central romance here involves the station manager (Valentin Smirnitskii) and a young, emotionally troubled junior employee (Svetlana Antonova).  Both have been through tough times (divorce and poverty).  This leads to a most unconventional romance—Smirnitskii is no matinee idol.  The stakes are raised considerably as rumors of a terrorist attack on the station grow from episode to episode, and in the end Oksana (Antonova’s character) saves the manager when an attack does indeed take place and a bomb is detonated on board one of the station’s trains.  These lovers are dragged great distances through diverse biographies, only to be torn from one another permanently by the dangerous political principles of others.

Among the tales of “transported” heroines, though, the sixteen-series Heaven and Earth is the grandest, employing two stars from The Brigade―Ekaterina Guseva and Vladimir Vdovichenkov.  It was directed in Minsk by Viktor Sergeev, who has a reputation for making “women’s dramas” even though he oversaw the third series of Gangland Petersburg (Banditskii Peterburg, 2001): “I like films centered around a female character and in this series the women are undoubtedly stronger than the men.”  Ekaterina Guseva agreed, saying that her childhood impressions of a stewardess’ life proved to be wrong, since it soon became clear that airline careers are “hellishly difficult.”[cxxxii]  The fact that she was performing simultaneously in the Moscow musical Nord-Ost did little to lessen the difficult workload; she would travel back and forth between the two cities on night trains.[cxxxiii]

The action takes place in the imaginary town of Surdiansk.  Relations are strained between the heroine (a stewardess called Marina) and her husband, airline captain Viktor Shvedov.  Viktor, despite problems both at home and with his health, refuses to grant Marina a divorce.  [On a routine flight,] the airline “Aviakom” receives a threatening note: “The steel bird will also fall.”  Several passengers receive the same note.  Panic sets in on board and the air stewards try to calm the passengers.  After the incident Marina promises her husband that from now on they will always fly together…

The show was deliberately shot in winter, so the major actors would (hopefully) be freer for a lengthy commitment.  Nonetheless, either budgets or timetables proved to be problematic as Guseva’s experience already shows: the biggest male star—Aleksandr Baluev—is sidelined early in the plot by a heart attack, throwing her into the limelight very quickly.  Baluev assessed the romantic problems caused by his absence as follows: “Pilots are special people.  Without love, so to speak, they just can’t fly.  Without love a pilot is not a pilot…  It’s not clear what’s most important for my character.  His sweetheart or the skies.  That was probably the most important moment in the role that I tried to make use of.”[cxxxiv]  The male aspect of the romance is again presented as an existential issue, one that can proffer a superior alternative to other, more grossly social choices.

The emotional conundrums surrounding Guseva’s character were occasionally overshadowed by petulant nitpickers from the aviation profession, as was the case with The Station.  Their criticism ranged from uniforms that were the wrong color to airplanes that do not crash “properly.”[cxxxv]  Separating the emotional choices from the material ones (in terms of career, cash, and production values) was not going to be easy.  Perhaps in deliberate and admirable avoidance of material(istic) fussiness, Guseva tried hard later in the series to vivify some dreadful problems of paralysis with no more than her eyes.  She remains in that immobile state for several episodes.[cxxxvi]  This degree of affective intensity led ultimately to parallels with Arthur Haley’s Airport (George Seaton, 1970).[cxxxvii]  The series was thus colored “through and through with both love and respect for stewardesses, those ‘swallows of the sky.’”  It was, with this powerful romantic undercurrent, also the first series starring Vdovichenkov devoid of shooting and fighting (as, for example, in The Brigade or Bimmer [Bumer, dir. Petr Buslov, 2003]).[cxxxviii]

The connections of Vdovichenkov and Guseva to The Brigade and Nord-Ost are very important, since both productions were lauded and lambasted as deeply Russian tales of the here-and-now.  Both juxtapose love to other forms of desire (be they political or purely avaricious).  Based on a Soviet adventure story, Nord-Ost is “an explanation of the Soviet past in personal, not political, terms.  Moreover, it projects the past onto the present, seeking continuity.  [It is] a symbol of Russia—not of the new Russia, but of a country with tradition, rather than one where traditions were severed.”[cxxxix]  Mark Lipovetsky, in a related observation, extends that same historical project to various stable characteristics in the reworking of a private Soviet past.  In other words, private experience might be used to bridge the gap caused by politics in 1991.  The private experiences in post-Soviet dramas, says Lipovetsky, often constitute a simple opposition of good and bad characters; a frequent reliance upon military conflict to drive the plot; an already “psychologically shaped” protagonist drawn from heroic archetypes; the insignificance of romance, plus recognizable references to Soviet works and to well-known Western genres.[cxl]  I would certainly not go this far, and take big issue with the removal of romance, but the idea of calm, private continuation is very much at work.

The ability of anybody actually to get anything done is moot, though, as we see.  I would be inclined at this stage to side instead with arguments made in Anthony Olcott’s study of popular fiction in Russia and of the morality contained within it.  The principles that underlie romance on Russian TV are often the same (ethically underwritten and) wisely-chosen options that structure detective shows.  They are not political and are made within a restricted, romantically social space:

The code of morality lies not in individual acts, but rather in the purpose for which an act was undertaken, or the intent that lies behind it.  If the purpose of an act is to serve private ends or advance individual interests, then the detektiv [detective show or book] will view it with suspicion and probably condemn it outright, no matter how apparently benign the act may be.  Conversely, as long as the purpose of an act is to serve “the people” or the disembodied state, the genre accepts it as good—even if property is stolen or people killed.[cxli]

Private actions, therefore, echo and effect public states.  Such ideas, as Olcott notes, go back further than post-Soviet concerns.  They predate Marx, bearing instead the mark of a religious orthodoxy that maintains the inherent sinfulness of humans (especially in any division of selfhood from the community); and yet, according to the same outlook, all people bear the potential likeness of God.  These pious views of behavior in detective stories can move further still from policy, in fact from history altogether, when they touch upon the nature of power in all social structures (and, therefore, in both law and order).

Paradoxical as the argument may seem, the genre of the detektiv could be said to be elaborating a view of good and evil that in fact makes crime fiction impossible, or at least unnecessary.  If there is no substantial barrier between good and bad, [that is,] if [human] law by definition contravenes [truly universal, socially unprejudiced] justice, and if crime and law enforcement are going to battle one another to a draw for all eternity, then the conventions of crime fiction—at least as defined by the western countries that gave birth to them—have no place in Russia.  The genre refuses to show that crime may be stopped, that good may triumph, or that humans may grow less evil.[cxlii]

 If the room for altering the legal status quo is so small, then, not surprisingly, a somewhat fatalistic Manicheanism can result for the heart, too.  Love becomes a harbor from the eternal vacillation between happiness and harm, yet—in theory—it makes happiness, too.  But is it worth the effort in such a spiteful country?  This sad question prompts our third rubric.


4: The Ironic Narrative

The UPS Agency (Agentstvo NLS, since 2001), Sisters (Sestry, 2004) and Women in a Lawless Game (Zhenshchiny v igre bez pravil, 2004)

If Olcott is correct, and perceptions of social misery or mastery find voice in the structure of detective stories, what about the role of romance?  A genre popular in Russian storytelling today is the “ironic detective” tale, looking with a wry smile at our yarns of masterful criminals or sage, perspicacious detectives.  A good place to start here would be the wonderful series The UPS Agency (dir. Dmitrii Parmenov).  While there are certainly romantic tendencies in the TV adaptations of Dar'ia Dontsova’s books mentioned earlier, they usually take the form of middle-aged modesty and are consigned to the level of subplot.  The UPS Agency, however, is driven wholly by affairs of the heart.  First of all, the agency’s very name includes an abbreviation for “Unusual Private Situations.”  Cases cracked by the agency’s three young (and amateurish) detectives always involve somebody’s amorous or familial mishap.  Secondly, the three young people find, given their age (early 20s), that sexual tensions buzz between them from time to time.  These two issues make for a muddle of romance and other emotional schemes: “The agency’s youthful colleagues have handled … all the tricky intricacy of other people’s confidential affairs.  They’ve broken through webs of intrigue and tracked down brides who vanished on the eve of their wedding…  Each of the films in this series is unique, separate, and unconnected to the others.  That’s why it’s hard to define this serial’s genre.”[cxliii]  

31 Cast of The UPS Agency, including Igor' Botvin (right)

The magazine TV-Park distinguished this series from other works by its “kindness and irony,” since it treats off-hand love stories as high drama.  The host station, TNT, explained further how kindness forms a work ethic: “The UPS Agency takes on any case that a normal detective would happily turn down.  In order to see each case to the end, various disguises are needed; the threesome needs to adopt all kinds of strange personae and enter the world of their adversaries.  But in any situation, even the trickiest, the trustiest weapon of all will save our heroes—humor.”[cxliv]  

Affirmative, inclusive kindness and humor counteract the cruelty of typical melodramas—they counteract “Muscovite” emphases.  Not only is the series set and shot in St. Petersburg, but the show’s promoters make much of the provincial origins of its actors (from Vologda and Poltava).  Smaller characters from smaller towns will be loved by more and more people.  The small reflects and makes the big: “I [Igor' Botvin] lived in Moscow when I was in the army; I was in the Spetsnaz.  Then I went home to Vologda.  I slobbed around for a bit and then made a break for it—to Petersburg where my sister lives.  Lived there for a while, went out and about…  I liked the place.  So I went home, grabbed my stuff and moved to Petersburg for good.”[cxlv]  As a result, the “lad from Vologda has become the idol of Russia’s women right before our eyes.”  When he finally traveled back to his village after a ten-year absence, “he went to visit all the friends and acquaintances that used to laugh at him.  Some had become alcoholics, some had got married…  Now they looked at Igor' with respect and asked him all about working in TV.”[cxlvi]  He had worked his way into the hearts of young girls amid Petersburg’s classical beauty with bodybuilding and an enduring admiration for Schwarzenegger.[cxlvii]

The parallel systems of love and provincial inclusiveness are furthered by the fact that the series’ crew prides itself on wanting to shoot outdoors without drawing any attention.  In one instance “there was a sign hanging at the entrance to a gas station: ‘Dear Drivers!  Don’t be concerned.  We’re just filming.’  The crew occupied a motel, set up their apparatus and lighting.  And the drivers who came by to grab a bite, or the long-haul truckers setting things up for a stopover, didn’t pay undue attention to what was going on.  They all quickly went away, each on his own business.”[cxlviii]


32 Sisters

The quiet, ironic, and iconoclastic treatment of detective stories with friendship and flirting adopts a grander scale in Sisters (dir. Anton Sivers), produced in 2004 by Dmitrii Meskhiev and Valerii Todorovskii for RTR.  The satirical linkages between romance and wrongdoing are extended in Sisters as domestic spats and broken hearts turn into bona fide criminal activity.  “Each of the three charming sisters has her own destiny, her own profession, and her own men.  Nina is married to a successful surgeon but prefers to earn her living by driving cars [into Russia] from abroad.  She is forced to take on this dangerous work after her husband starts having problems on his job.  The middle sister, Alla, is a beautiful red-haired business lady, while Masha, the youngest, works at a TV station and dreams of becoming a famous journalist.  Life in this big family is far from simple—every one of the sisters has a strong character and will stand up for what she believes in.”[cxlix]

Dragged into and out of various (male) schemes, the sisters’ proximity to a normal relationship grows in an inverse relationship to the adventure.  The more chaos, the less romance; the more romance, the greater peace, quiet, and chances of a pleasing denouement.  The greatest juxtaposition between male destruction and female emotional construction comes late in the twelve-episode series when Masha (Liubov' Tikhomirova) is drugged in a café by a deranged photographer.  Already cursed with a boyfriend who is often drunk and always indecisive, she now awakes from the pills and cognac to discover she is bound, gagged, and trapped within a locked mansion somewhere at a mystery location.  Male conceptions of love are more than proprietary.     

The confusion, car chases, and shoot-outs that mark the lives led by such strong-headed characters are aptly captured in the title of the 2004 Rossiia series, Women in a Lawless Game, made by Iurii Moroz, the director of the detective series Kamenskaia.  Here, too, the love of women is potentially a driving force.  As Moroz himself has said, the series “is a real melodrama of love and that’s what it shares with Kamenskaia.  There are five central heroines; initially I undertook this project to try and look at love’s various stages.  There’s the first sentiment of a very young girl, the fortuitous love of a mother, and the late, but extremely feisty romance of a grandmother who’s still in the prime of life.”[cl]

The wheel of fortune interweaves peoples’ destinies in magical ways. It gives rise to new connections and changes the world around us all.  At the center of the story are three women: Mariia Petrovna, Elena, and Alka.  Three generations of women in one family—each of them is fated to meet her true love.  The grandmother will find her final love; the mother’s love will be unexpected and brief.  The daughter’s love will be her first.  No matter how each of their fates comes together, no matter what difficulties fall to their lot, these women are sure of one thing.  Only Love can overcome misfortune.

The various plots are entwined not so much by shared knowledge among characters as by a tongue-in-cheek narrative amplified by quirky comments upon frozen frames, on-screen text, and other games played with the acceleration/deceleration of events passing before us.  Much of this is very reminiscent of Amélie (Jean-Pierre Jeunet, 2001).  The workings of destiny are so complex, they can only be described in a childlike or ironic, disjointed fashion which does little to aid comprehension.  One connection between such social conjecture and real life (that is, between fairytales and feasibility) is made by the casting of musician Garik Sukachev, who plays himself as a singer admired by one of the sisters from afar.[cli]  What brings all the characters together, such as the husband of a car accident victim and a divorcée looking for a fresh start, is love—either among adults or for a young woman in difficulty after an unexpected pregnancy.


That Balzac Age, or All Men Are Basta… (Bal'zakovskii vozrast, ili Vse muzhiki svo…, 2004)

If the success of these series and their aspirations to realism is dependent upon the reflection of something (very often fated) rather than the creation of something bold and socially subversive ex nihilo, then a problem hovering forever in the background is whether these series also “re-present” somebody else’s (already presented and accepted) reality, perhaps that of American studios.  Of late, the loudest and most publicly discussed example of cultural fawning has been the relationship between NTV’s romantic series “for middle-aged women” That Balzac Age, or All Men Are Basta… (dir. Dmitrii Fiks) and HBO’s Sex and the City (1998-2002). 

   33 Cast of That Balzac Age, or All Men Are Basta…

The difference (which could either complicate or negate accusations of plagiarism) between the two serials is defined as follows:

We’ve got people here [in Russia] who can talk about love, too; they can talk about sex without prudishness and vulgarity.  They can do it with humor.  That’s what makes our version no less interesting—sometimes more so, actually.  Nonetheless the main heroine in this serial remains Love, even if She isn’t mentioned in the credits.  This is Love in all Her manifestations and misfortunes, Love through tears and laughter.  On their way through life these four girlfriends will encounter wealthy admirers and youthful lovers, charming rabbis and gorgeous (albeit suspicious-looking) guys.  Each of the heroines will have to answer the question: ‘Are all men really basta…?’  Is it worth giving up and surrendering to life’s unfairness?  Or, despite all, not give up hope and keep on believing there’s a prince out there somewhere waiting for each of them on a white horse?  A prince who’s briefly lost in the labyrinths of the Big City?[clii]

Even if this is a convincing definition of difference, it leans terribly heavily (and carefully) on the model it claims to disown.  This was hardly a series composed in a carefree, slapdash manner, either: 250 actresses were tried for each of the four female roles.[cliii]

Singing the tune of this American serial to a Russian melody, the [Slavic] screenwriters ignored some key circumstances, such as differences between cultural traditions …  [The authors forgot] that talking about “you-know-what” in public in Russian or English are two totally different things.  When four female New Yorkers, all wealthy and successful, emancipated women, give forth on the nuances of an orgasm or the correct relationship between penis length and vagina width, it seems neither tasteless nor vulgar.  The linguistic peculiarities of the great and mighty Russian language are such that even if we ignore the comedic element of the serial, it all looks helpless and unconvincing.[cliv]

The women’s magazine Kleo went as far as tabulating the similarities between the two shows and even matching the characters one to one: Sarah Jessica Parker and Iuliia Men'shova; Cynthia Nixon and Lada Dens; Kim Cattrall and Zhanna Èpple; Kristin Davis and Alika Smekhova.  In addition, the male partners seemed to repeat various NY characters, just as the roles of the cities themselves (New York and Moscow) overlap.  The differences, somewhat harshly, were here defined as dramatic ability, the number of awards won, and the number of episodes (99 versus 12): “Twelve doesn’t seem like a lot but, on the other hand, there’s no need for any more.  Please, no more!”[clv]

For all that, the debut in June 2004 was a hit, allowing NTV to outstrip ORT in primetime—a very rare event of late.  Even more surprising, a large part of the show’s audience was stolen from the classic detective series running simultaneously on ORT (and discussed below), Streets of Broken Lights (Ulitsy razbitykh fornarei, multiple directors).[clvi]  Doubts had persisted right until the debut, since a late spring or early summer release never bodes well for a healthy market share[clvii]—especially in a cold country like Russia, where good weather means bad TV statistics.  But many people were happy to stay home and follow the romantic adventures of four women questioning traditional notions of age and gender.  As Iuliia Men'shova put it: “If you live with the feeling that you’re 30, that you’ve got a child and have been dumped, then of course your personal life is going to come to a standstill.  What matters here is not the man, not the child, but how you see yourself and your age…  Some ladies sit at home and suffer: ‘I’m 30, I’ve got no husband.  Poor me, what am I to do?  40 isn’t far off!’  They’ve just got divorced, the pain hasn’t passed yet, but she’s already driving herself on so she can jump into another marriage as soon as possible.  Get a grip!  Look after your kids first of all!  A husband will turn up sooner or later.”[clviii]  Fate and self-definition walk hand in hand.  The latter is an American import.

The Literary Gazette was unimpressed.  It judged the series from the standpoint that “generic, narrative and intonational unpredictability” are always the key to good storytelling, whereas NTV was offering “graphomania” and a “clearly unprofessional,” if not “helpless” screenplay.  Any attempt to match Sex and the City in a land that never had its own sexual revolution was bound to look sad and silly.[clix]   The problem was not new: the Soviet women’s magazine Female Worker (Rabotnitsa) had never looked anything like Cosmopolitan and the Russian show’s dialog remained stubbornly on the level of “mentally retarded seventh-graders,” which didn’t help matters.[clx]

Yet that purported retardation or unshakeable Slavic air could perhaps help to foster the show’s success, as the journal Ogonek thought.  The American HBO series had not garnered especially high ratings when it ran in Russia; a local version with a local reality surely stood a better chance?[clxi]  It could even help people by offering them emotional support grounded in identifiable domestic experience: “There are so many women like that in [our] life.  They could learn from others’ [dramatized] mistakes.  It’s not a perfect game to play, of course.  Nor, come to that, are the show’s plots perfect, either...  But what is ideal in our life?  The main thing is that it’s nice to watch.  It may not be for everybody, but lots of people will like it.  It’s not ‘Cinema for Everyone,’ but it’s certainly for a lot of people.”[clxii]  Detective series are cinema for everyone.  

5: Romance in Detective or Crime Series: Destiny and Love as the Soviet Tradition Comes Home

        Streets of Broken Lights (Ulitsy razbitykh fonarei, since 1997) and Kamenskaia (since 1999)

Successful television “for one and all” has its detractors, not surprisingly.  A couple of years ago, Art of Cinema (Iskusstvo kino) outlined its own dissatisfaction with the quintessential post-Soviet detective TV show, Streets of Broken Lights.  The article’s author, Aleksandr Rogozhin, blamed Russia’s lack of experience in “long” series.  In this particular series he discerned a lack of continuity twice over: both stylistically (that is, between episodes) and in the behavior of the main characters.  The absence of discernible plot lines on many occasions was replaced by nothing more than “an excessive plenitude of everyday elements and details.”   Able to muster a few positive thoughts, Rogozhin said the broadcasts at least expressed some simple “Russian” notions of fairness and justice.  Yet these resulting opposites (narrative/visual convolution and ethical ease) contradict each other, he admitted; so much so, in fact, that the mental effort required in following the plot makes it hard for viewers to engage key events emotionally.  The head is so busy, the heart cannot catch up.[clxiii]

34 Cast of Streets of Broken Lights


Rogozhin may be wrong in some respects.  After all, the show is popular!  The charm of this wandering, cheap format is that when compared to the dreamscapes of Dear Masha Berezina, it starts to look extremely convincing.  Confusion on the set between actors and real policemen is reported by newspapers, reminding us of the inexpensive and provincial The UPS Agency.[clxiv]  The show has not only slipped back and forth modestly between fact and fiction; it has also moved unsurely between TV stations because of its popularity.  Originally released on TNT, it ended up on ORT in 1998 after Kirienko’s default, which wiped out the advertising world and led to much head-scratching among cash-strapped TV producers.  But the next, second series of Streets moved suddenly to NTV, which had noted the show’s éclat on TNT and ORT and thus outbid them both.  Because the controller of ORT, Konstantin Èrnst, had now missed a chance to continue the broadcasts, he announced his intention to make an identical mirror-show, a decision the head of TNT maligned as a “dearth of good ideas.”[clxv]  ORT nonetheless began its copycat serial, Lethal Force (Uboinaia sila [multiple directors, from 2000]), starring the same policemen plus Konstantin Khabenskii.  It was only after protracted legal discussions that ORT was forced to return the staple characters of Streets to the show on NTV.[clxvi]  

In essence, though, this story constitutes what Russians refer to as a “man’s serial” and for all the domestic scenes or marital problems that we see in Streets, it was Kamenskaia that made married life a major part of how real life “outdoors” is understood.  Streets of Broken Lights uses scenes of romance under stress to add a quotidian yet secondary element; Kamenskaia puts love and married life on a par with police work.  Both series have on occasion been criticized for excessive violence,[clxvii] yet love and respect at home attain their full social weight in the latter, which is based on novels by Aleksandra Marinina usually grouped under the term “women’s detective fiction” (zhenskii detektiv).[clxviii]

The series stars the nationally renowned actress Elena Iakovleva as the eponymous heroine, but even she was hired only after long debates concerning possible alternates: Polina Kutepova, Mariia Aronova, Elena Tsyplakova, Vera Glagoleva, and Ol'ga Drozdova.  The ultimate choice was obviously successful, though, since a recent television survey to find the “nation’s hero” put Anastasiia Kamenskaia in fourth place, after Putin, Sakharov, and Solzhenitsyn![clxix]  Whenever asked about similarities between herself and that female hero, Iakovleva almost always limits matters to the smaller, domestic facets of her alter ego.  “Like my heroine, I like to drink coffee.  I drink martinis, too, but I prefer demi sec.  Like Kamenskaia, I’m not crazy about computers.  I don’t wear prescription glasses.  I dress very much like her—jeans, a cap, jacket, skirt or a short sheepskin coat.  That’s almost exactly like Nastia.  But she [eventually] went off at some point to the registry office in an elegant gown, whereas my husband and I popped in to register ourselves in between rehearsals and an evening performance—literally in our jeans and sweaters!”[clxx]

On one and the same day in different Moscow wedding registries, two brides are shot point-blank.  Red on white: the color combination to entice an unidentified maniac.  Perhaps that’s how a spurned woman takes revenge?  As fate and circumstance would have it, Anastasiia Kamenskaia is getting married in the same registry office as the murder victim.  Maybe some photos, taken by a photographer moonlighting at the ceremonies will help the investigation?

Iakovleva is well aware that these parallels between life and drama can be consequential.  She was told by young girls after the ominous 1989 hit Intergirl (Interdevochka, dir. Petr Todorovoskii) that they wanted to become prostitutes, whereas today police cadets write on their exam papers that they wish to emulate Kamenskaia.[clxxi]  The series’ producer, Valerii Todorovskii, believes people need these parallels, since (as suggested above) they both replicate and construct fundamental social connections.  He draws a nice parallel between a comforting TV series and being at summer camp, where in each room there’s always some twelve-year old boy who is asked to tell an ongoing story each night before bed: “Come on, tell us that story!  Where did it get to last night?”  He maintains that the same happens in hospital wards and, allegedly, in prison cells, too.  The key element to all these narratives, be they verbal or visual, is that they must overlap with a commonly felt, shared certainty.  This quality distinguishes them from soap operas.  Todorovskii holds that because soap operas operate “above” reality (unnatural money, atypical beauty, etc.), they cannot function in Russia; if quotidian (actual) experience were at any point compared to the imaginary tale on screen, the fictional edifice would crumble.[clxxii]


35 Elena Iakovleva in Kamenskaia

36 Sergei Garmash in Kamenskaia


The avoidance of deception in Kamenskaia has been successful—and not just for the lead actress.  Even a secondary figure, Sergei Garmash (who plays Kamenskaia’s colleague Iurii Korotkov), has enjoyed sufficient popularity in his own romantic yet down-to-earth subplots to warrant parallels with the fame of Shtirlits in Seventeen Moments of Spring.  This odd comparison between a love-struck policeman and a Nazi officer is possible because Garmash played Richard Heidrich in The Red Choir.  Garmash has, in fact, acted in several of the series under review here and is very much a TV staple after appearances in Life Lines, Beyond the Wolves, and The Brigade.  In one recent interview he defined the attractiveness of serials for the “Russian mentality” via three key emphases: “Crime, a family chronicle, and a long, drawn out love story.”[clxxiii]  They are inseparable, hence our discussion of doe-eyed romance among hard-nosed cops.  

If figures of the hearth or heart (no matter what they do for a living) embody better philosophies of social being, perhaps they qualify as heirs to the long-lost label of “intelligentsia”?  If so, these are not the lonesome, library-bound thinkers of prior decades.  The prestigious New Literary Review (Novoe literaturnoe obozrenie) has pointed out that today’s characters of learning and intellect (such as detectives), must—according to the “demands of mass culture”—be shown knee-deep in everyday details and “real problems of daily life.”  In one episode, for example, Kamenskaia ponders whether to buy some expensive orange juice: “‘It’d be pleasure incarnate, of course, but it’s so expensive…  That kind of packet would last for four days if I only drank it in the morning, and even then it’d come to almost 2,000 rubles a month.’   Kamenskaia had taken time off in May but hadn’t gone anywhere.  Instead she’d taken on a little hackwork—translating a detective novel from the French—then blew all that money on some lavish pleasures.  She’d bought 30 packets of juice, a few jars of coffee, and three boxes of good cigarettes.”[clxxiv]  Thus, argues the New Literary Review, the heroine is an admirable figure because she uses her mind and intellect in the real world—hopefully to solve problems—and as a detective that means she works to the public good.  Any individual prone to detachment among his/her musings should wise up, be good, and get social ASAP.  Sounds Soviet, doesn’t it?  

Turetskii’s March (Marsh Turetskogo, since 2000)

These conclusions about Kamenskaia can be transferred to another Rossiia show with which it is often advertised—as kindred spirit in aesthetics and airtime: Turetskii’s March (dir. Mikhail Tumanishvili) stars Aleksandr Domogarov, an actor already prominent in historical TV drama.  The bravado of courtly heart-throbs is shifted to the police force: “The show’s hero is Special Investigator for the State Prosecutor’s Office, Turetskii.  He’s unbelievably smart, independent, and honest.  The main thing, though, is that he struggles successfully against corruption, against criminals and ‘businessmen’ who don’t keep their hands clean.”[clxxv]  Given Domogarov’s status as an established TV star and sex symbol, those “admirable” social qualities often dovetail with his ability to conquer hearts as well as criminals.[clxxvi]  His affairs come at the expense of his marriage; the actress playing his wife (Marina Mogilevskaia) is the embodiment of marital martyrdom.  Here the “female” emphases of Kamenskaia become a “men’s serial,” for there is much drinking, smoking, winking, and fishing going on.

A wave of murders involving major bankers has rolled across Russia.  What is it: a war between financial factions that’s risen to the surface?  Maybe fighting between bandits?  “Big shot” Aleksandr Borisovich Turetskii is brought into the case.  His version of events—the final version—turns out to be the only correct one…

37 Aleksandr Domogarov of Turetskii’s March

If, on the other hand, romantic characteristics (oriented towards male or female viewers) connect several serials—made by the same TV channel and advertised on the same posters at the same bus stops—does this not hint at an impending homogeneity, gendered categories aside?  For some people today, it certainly does.  The shows’ routine can sometimes overlap with the routine of characters’ professional activities, leaving a gray sameness redolent of socialist tedium, of “warmed-over, Soviet officialdom.  [In the case of Turetskii,] you might have a beautiful girl who’s trying to explain with broken, indistinct phrases that she’s in mortal danger.  But Turetskii coldly insists on the facts of the matter—and until those facts come to light he’s ready to walk away, pure and simple, leaving the girl to destiny’s whim.  So it’s no big surprise that during an intense shoot-out with some murderers who’ve turned up, Turetskii takes quite a while to realize they’ve already shot her…  It looks like this hero’s in no position to save anybody from death, because he no longer has the inner strength to worry about another person’s existence.  Whenever Domogarov has to show his reaction at a friend’s death, it all looks extremely cold and mannered.”[clxxvii]

Here, too, the emphasis on details such as shared drinks between the “lads” in the Procurator’s Office reaches the point of a “profoundly modern [and irritating] naturalism.”  Hence, perhaps, the reaction of some viewers today: “I really don’t like Domogarov.  He plays his role badly and it’s all too affected.  The series is a big disappointment for me.”[clxxviii]  It would appear that when the social membership of actors around Turetskii (in particular Vladimir Il'in and Boris Nevzorov) is both institutionalized (in the form of the State Procurator) and then directed back upon forms of society in somewhat forceful, if not sexually patriarchal ways, it unnerves some people.  Policeman, remember, are supposed to aid, that is, be the social within a largely predestined, Manichean scheme.  Self-assured ladies’ men, who use the institution of their employers, smack on occasion of Soviet cockiness or chvanstvo.  Already being a star from swashbuckling historical dramas, Domogarov had brought that troubling baggage with him to the police series.   Kamenskaia doubts; Turetskii does—yet at times with unfeasible self-reliance.  He occasionally becomes a social and sexual fantasy.  

  The Brigade (Brigada, 2002) and Borderlands (Granitsa, 2000)

Another show where pushy heroes and stardom have caused problems is the mafia epic The Brigade, even if the series showcased a younger group of actors, less familiar to the Russian viewing public.  It had few qualms advertising itself explicitly in the spirit of One Upon a Time in America (Sergeo Leone, 1984) or The Godfather (Francis Ford Coppola, 1972).  Some journalists even detailed specific episodes taken directly from the second and third parts of the Godfather trilogy (1974 and 1990), yet were also willing to say that The Brigade follows “the standard path [of a Russian mafia film]—from a happy-go-lucky hooligan to big-time racketeer.  Then we see participation in all kinds of economic ‘schemes’ and finally your patriotic mafioso—who can’t bring himself to sell arms to Chechen warriors.”[clxxix]

39: Sergei Bezrukov, lead actor of The Brigade


38: Cast of The Brigade


40 Sasha Belyi (Sergei Bezrukov) and his wife (Ekaterina Guseva), The Brigade


This is the story of four childhood friends.  They’re typical Moscow guys: Sasha Belyi, Kosmos, Pchela, and Fil.  They grew up together around the same courtyard.  Together these four buddies decide to make a little extra cash, but an inadvertent murder ruins all their plans in a second.  Their lives suddenly become a gamble; a risk that’s too great for them … but there’s nowhere to retreat.  And so the four friends map out a path for themselves in the criminal world.  By destiny’s will they become one of Moscow’s most organized and prominent criminal gangs.

The series went on to make the actors household names; so much so, in fact, that—as with Kamenskaia—several articles appeared, sympathizing with current stars of TV and cinema who had missed out.  Sergei Bezrukov’s central role as the bandit Sasha Belyi was discussed in the same breath as Konstantin Khabenskii, Iurii Laguta, and even Vladimir Mashkov.  Ekaterina Guseva’s role as Belyi’s wife had almost fallen to Inga Oboldina and Mariia Golubkina.[clxxx]  Not long after the debut, frantic questions already sounded as to the possibility of a sequel.  One of the four central actors, Pavel Maikov, quipped: “Have you watched this [first] series to the end yet?!  [Maybe] we all get killed, so what kind of sequel could there be?  Do you want ‘Return of The Brigade Zombies’?”[clxxxi]

Winning both the casting call and the hearts of impatient millions, Bezrukov’s position at the head of the series has now made him one of TV’s cultural arbiters; he is constantly asked about the current state of television drama, about its leanings towards positive or negative heroes.  It is here that The Brigade differs from Turetskii’s March in its potential vis à vis social models.  Bezrukov has said, for example, that recent adaptations of Dostoevskii’s The Idiot will incline kids towards good books (and away from computer screens), a positive attitude extended by the contention that all his on-screen characters, including Sasha Belyi and Vronskii (in a forthcoming adaptation of Anna Karenina), are likewise positive.[clxxxii]  Since when did mafia figures give advice on socializing children with love and respect?

The possibility of squeezing constructive meanings into a criminal drama series came in part from a relative lack of blood and guts (compared with analogous films).  The director and screenwriter Aleksei Sidorov wanted “lots of psychological, quotidian episodes instead.  And love scenes, in the good sense of the word—without vulgarity…  The Russian public adores Belyi for the way he loved [not for his criminal guile]…  Young people today have lost the ability to love, they’ve lost the idea of fidelity.”[clxxxiii]  Here is where friends and lovers overlap, where Turetskii falls behind in a cloud of dust.  Masculine camaraderie requires two things as the foundation of a credible series: a deeply-loved heroine (acting as ethical yardstick for the outside word) and an equal, oppositional force in that same outside world against which the hero is judged.  Turetskii’s characters, though hugely admired, sometimes lean so heavily on assurances (on themselves, on their rock-solid friendship) and the institution they represent that they start to seem Soviet (in the sense of being monolithic) as opposed to Sasha Belyi et al., who salvage the romanticism of much earlier Soviet narratives.  The Brigade is romantic in terms of both love and twentieth-century literary chronology.  Both those categories embody forms of desire.  State institutions desire nothing; they already embody everything.

“Everything” can be avoided with “some-thing(s)” in particular.  The quotidian elements so closely tied to The Brigade, together with a vital love theme, underwrite the scale of this project and prompt the analogies with Once Upon a Time in America.  The Brigade was shot on 350 locations and includes 110 speaking roles (of consequence); it made use of 900 costumes and for one shoot-out alone needed 500 holes in the wall to reflect the shots supposedly fired.[clxxxiv]  There is a limit, however (as one might expect), where this enterprise becomes excessive and again looks naturalistic, that is, it sidelines the human element and/or “institutionalizes” itself in TV line-ups through the (unassailable) size of its machinations.  Maybe The Brigade is popular purely because it has the funds to show itself more often than other, similar broadcasts?  If so, we reach another Soviet dilemma: are viewers and readers simple, passive recipients of Moscow’s centralized culture or do they guide TV listings with their decision to watch (or not to watch) a given broadcast?  The former, sadder possibility is sometimes encountered: “The thing is that viewers are like children.  They adore reading what they’ve read 100 times before and watching what they’ve already watched.  If TV stations show us [the elderly comics] Petrosian, Stepanenko, and [the variety show] Anshlag every day, then we’ll start loving Petrosian, Stepanenko, and Anshlag…”[clxxxv]

This observation, by Art of Cinema editor Daniil Dondurei, was seconded by TV presenter Aleksandr Liubimov, claiming that TV stories engage viewers’ emotions, “not their head.  They sort of rehash a viewer’s impressions from life, while distorting them a bit.”  The Brigade’s producer, Aleksandr Inshakov, objected to this sorry viewpoint at a television roundtable; he maintained there was no such influence of TV on life, that is, no such thing as a film whose events then came to life in life.  This seems moot, however, even in the context of The Brigade, given that several instances have been recorded in Russia of young boys killing their contemporaries on the explicit model of this series.

One of the show’s other producers, Anatolii Sivushov, holds that the broadcast’s influence on life has been positive, and here we come full circle—to the earlier contention that Sasha Belyi actually teaches viewers to love.  Sivushov said that the adventures of Belyi and his friends could justifiably be cataloged under a subheading of “The Russian Mafia through the Eyes of Mothers and Wives.”[clxxxvi]  This constant interlocking during most episodes between crime and romance or (subsequent) familial ties has even conjured parallels—yet again—with both the maudlin tradition and episodic structure of Moscow Does Not Believe in Tears.[clxxxvii]  Paradoxically, it was said that The Brigade, in order to reach the high moral ground held by Men'shov’s film, had to show wrongdoing by its heroes because any tale of great wealth accrued after perestroika among honest characters would convince nobody.  It had to involve criminals, said one journalist, since nobody would believe a tale of honest policemen and their love-lives.  The Brigade, walking this contrary path, “tells of good things …  The heroes are continually obliged to decide what’s more important for them—real friendship or huge amounts of money.  They resolve these issues with complete dignity.”[clxxxviii]

Since Moscow Does Not Believe in Tears and The Brigade both take place over very long periods of time, being tales of change and chance, it is interesting to see how children perceive these processes of dignified maturation.  Given the importance of love, what girls have to say is of particular significance, especially in response to a hackneyed “boyish” remark:

    They’re great guys.  Great friends, too.  It’s too bad that they got into arms dealing, though.  I liked the figure of Fil best of all, because he’s a sportsman.  He’s reliable and he’s always calm (Artem, 11 years old).

    What do mean, they’re “great”?  Look how many bad things they did to others   Sure, there was a strong friendship between the men, but that’s not enough to make me respect bandits.  It’s a good thing I don’t have friends like that… (Lena, 16 years old).

    I’d like to be Belyi’s girlfriend.  I like a life with adventure.  But it wasn’t worth killing the people who killed his friends.  That could go on forever! …  It’s better to have less money and live quietly.  I felt sorry for Belyi’s family.  His wife and son will be shaking with fear for the rest of their lives.  The film is a warning to all girls and guys who don’t understand yet what big money leads to—or what happens when you’re greedy for power (Ania, 11 years old).[clxxxix]

In an interview with a major Moscow newspaper, Bezrukov said the series is “about life.  The fate of both the nation and mankind.  It’s about the fact there’s real friendship and real love.  I hope young people, despite all of my hero’s charm, won’t take him as an example to follow, because you’ll pay three times over for that kind of life.”  His co-stars agreed and said the series centers upon “friends who are trying to build a life for themselves—all on their own” (Vladimir Vdovichenkov); Pavel Maikov was even more straightforward in his definition.  The Brigade, quite simply, “is about love and friendship.”[cxc]

If violence, justice, and friendship can be commingled, though, are we really escaping the kind of dilemma in which Turetskii’s March found itself?  The problem does not go away in the Russian press today.  One correspondent has suggested that these combined qualities of the central characters amount to the standard Soviet depiction of military officers, not bandits or criminals: “There’s strict adherence to one’s word, plus heroic acts in the name of both friendship and love …  And how beautiful and faithful their girlfriends all are!  The true ideal of a Russian officer’s wife!  They don’t ask their husbands about work…  They understand that it’s the fate of all men to go off into the fog and then call home, overcoming the agony from a shot to the shoulder: ‘I’m with a friend at his dacha.  Everything’s just fine.’”[cxci]  This inclination towards a reliable past—rather than the risk of something new or very foreign (in the sense of uniqueness)—was likened on one web forum to the difference between a (solid, unrefined, and plagiarized) Snickers bar and infinitely superior Swiss Lindt chocolate: “It’s a cinema-clone, a ‘Dolly the sheep’ in comparison to normal, healthy animals.”[cxcii]

The retro-series (consciously or otherwise) of dignified social “officers” within the male adventure rubric has become increasingly popular, and was foreshadowed by dramas such as Borderlands: A Romance of the Taiga (Granitsa: Taezhnyi roman, dir. Aleksandr Mitta, 2000), made in eight episodes for TV as well as being whittled down to two hours for cinemas.[cxciii]

41: Cover of the soundtrack for Borderlands: A Romance of the Taiga

The action takes place in the 1970s.  Our heroes are the officers and wives of the Far Eastern Border Garrison.  Although the [social] world of these characters is a small one, that same small space is home to an entire range of human relations: love and betrayal, friendship and bitterness, mutual assistance—and jealousy to the point of madness.

Director and screenwriter Aleksandr Mitta “obviously wanted to make the kind of TV program that nobody has made for ages [that is, since the 1970s themselves].  First of all, it would plainly be a TV novella centered not on one destiny, but on lots of them, all entwined.  The characters would develop as they go along, too.”[cxciv]  Using the geographic, social, and historical sweep here, not only does the romantically-driven TV series expand beyond its usual limits, but kindred dramas draw both increasingly and positively upon Soviet experience.  That, given Putin’s stance towards the media, may not be the happiest option.  

In the summer of 2003 the TVS television channel was shut down, thus silencing the last private station that broadcast coast to coast.  TVS had been created to follow the defunct TV6, whose chief (Boris Berezvoskii) fled to the United Kingdom—just as TV6 staff members had fled NTV after it, too, was hounded by the Kremlin.  In December 2004 the independent monitoring group Freedom House used its global survey “Freedom in the World” to downgrade Russia from “Partly Free” to the lowly status of “Not Free.”  “Russia’s status fell because of the flawed nature of the country’s parliamentary elections in December 2003 and the presidential elections in 2004, the further consolidation of state control of the media and the imposition of official curbs on opposition political parties and groups.”[cxcv]  So what are the consequences for storytelling and TV dramas, especially in light of Putin’s retrospection?  One story answers this question with particular clarity.

  A Policeman’s Beat (Uchastok, 2003)

A Policeman’s Beat (dir. Aleksandr Baranov) is the very quiet television series in which Bezrukov starred after The Brigade had come to an end.  Here, after Borderlands, is the workshop of the new positive hero, the place where he will grow: “Forest, forest all around.  Fields.  Villages.  Little houses.  Basically nothing special, if you don’t count the fact that Sergei Bezrukov is walking around the village.  There’s a strikingly handsome bloodhound beside him.  Bezrukov is silent.  For a while.  The bloodhound talks to him.  Sometimes.  Together this odd couple is investigating the matter of a stolen goat.  A nice little scene … that took about a million dollars to make.”[cxcvi]  The broadcasts, running at the same time as Two Fates, took a massive 49% share of national primetime; Two Fates took 42% in its time slot.  The Brigade, by comparison, hit its peak at 40.2%.  Nostalgia and countryside romance, on the edge of (but not wholly in) an institution, are back in a big way.[cxcvii]  

42: Sergei Bezrukov in A Policeman’s Beat

43: Mariia Poroshina in A Policeman’s Beat

Policeman Pavel Kravtsov is a rather strange person.  If he has to handcuff somebody he apologizes and asks if the cuffs pinch.  He’s ambitious but honest; he’s young but pensive.  You won’t make much of yourself in a city police force with that kind of “investment” in your career.  And so Lieutenant Kravtsov, a city boy through and through, ends up in the backwater village of Anisovka as a regular policeman.  It’s a bit like exile or an unwelcome business trip.  And then there’s the argument he had with his wife—over a complete misunderstanding.  It was about Kravtsov being married to his job, when that same job (in the form of his boss) isn’t exactly holding onto him…  Having left everything behind and taking only his beloved dog Caesar, Kravtsov heads off for Anisovka where he starts getting used to the place…

The future implications of this stencil, whereby institutional figures are viewed through personal, romantic relationships (in this case with actress Mariia Poroshina) can be seen already.  The publishing house and broadcasting network Palmyra (Pal'mira) has created an annual competition called “Russian Theme” (Rossiiskii siuzhet) in order to rally good, positive heroes with the following phrases: “The world we live in tomorrow depends on the world we’re shown today!  Look to the future positively.  The competition’s priority is the search for works that show a positive side of contemporary life, works that form the image of a positive hero.  Works that affirm human virtue.  We’re in favor of depicting heroes who can, in today’s complicated circumstances, make a career for themselves by honest means.  A career, success, and material self-sufficiency are attainable in Russia without recourse to corruption, crime, and treachery.”

The magazine Ogonek offered these same ideas to a panel of industry experts as a context in which to discuss A Policeman’s Beat.[cxcviii]  The author of the screenplay, Aleksei Slapovskii, likened his hero (with scant modesty) to Dostoevskii’s Alesha Karamazov and Prince Myshkin.  He claimed that writers will never find positive heroes in the real police force, since “it’s 99% corrupt—from the top down.”  Hence his desire to a create a fictional—if not salvationary—representative from the long-lost one per cent, a “positive hero [just like Sasha Belyi] who’s not made for political posters.  He’s the kind of person who makes a life for himself, by himself.  He doesn’t lie around on the stove” like the lazy men of Slavic folklore.

The show has been lauded for sounding the death knoll of ten years of “hellish” TV and news centered both on violence and the enduring misery of chernukha.  In this series “everything ends well because we have Officer Kravtsov—a knight beyond both fear and reproach.  Not only does he believe sincerely in the triumph of justice and the law, but he defends them, too.  By doing so he affirms similar beliefs in the viewer.  And who, upon seeing all that, wouldn’t jump for joy.”[cxcix]  Indeed, this may be cause for delight, but the same writer remarks that at some point (or limit) it all starts smelling like the well-polished past in the spirit of the late-1990s’ New Year’s retro-concerts Old Songs about What Matters (Starye pesni o glavnom) or Alla Pugacheva’s dreamy classic of 1979, “Starry Summer” (Zvezdnoe leto).[cc]

Bezrukov jumps into the proceedings and once again insists that all his heroes are “positive,” that A Policeman’s Beat does not “rehabilitate” an old and obsolete prototype.[cci]  Boris Grachevskii, director of the ageless children’s series Mishmash (Eralash), has concurred.  He insisted the show is busy solving issues of human interaction rather than dramatizing an obsessive, greedy interest in hard cash.[ccii]  Pushing that parallel a little further one could take issue with Bezrukov, though, because the show could undoubtedly be likened to the “village” detective stories of Officer Aniskin (The Provincial Detective [Derevenskii detektiv, dir. Ivan Lukinskii, 1968]; Aniskin and Phantomas [Aniskin i Fantomas, dir. Mikhail Zharov and Vladimir Rapoport, 1974]; Once Again Aniskin [I snova Aniksin, dir. Mikhail Zharov and Vitalii Ivanov, 1978]).  Likewise, “it’s not exactly Cossacks of the Kuban [Kubanskie kazaki, dir. Ivan Pyr'ev, 1949], but all the same this project does has a positive aura.”[cciii]  The debate continues:

    There’s a lot here that’s just made up—and there are way too many “coincidences.”  What we’re shown as happening over one year in the village wouldn’t happen over 100 years in a real village.  But all things considered I like it.  It’s not dull.

    Where would you see an officer like Bezrukov?  He only knows about village life from books.

    It’s a good-natured film—and that makes for a very strange combination.  But is that so bad?  The situations in the series are lively enough—things happen a little too often [in the village], as other people have pointed out.  But what d’you want?  You’d never watch real village life on a day-to-day basis!  They [the producers] show well the Russian tendency to screw things up; they show our passion for boozing and for anything that’s offered us free of charge, etc., etc.  I vote FOR this kind of series with both my thumbs—and all my toes.[cciv]

The parallel with legendary musical Cossacks of the Kuban is helpful, since it also makes much use of the landscape to build optimistic metaphors.  Maybe this is also the format of the future?  The opening scenes are of people-less wheat fields; the smoothly rolling blades of a combine harvester come into shot, and an opening song of love and plenitude rings out across the countryside.  Soviet songs, still loved today, bolster the narrative (“As once you were, so still you are…”[Kakim ty byl, takim ty i ostalsia…]); numerous people adopt melodies sung at first by one person.  This leads quickly to the workplace harmony of multitudes and the harmony of farm workers’ music.  In fact, when these mellifluous groups take the form of an amateur variety concert, we see a reverse process as the affect of the sung lyrics inspires the audience to love, to note the “warning signs” of their fluttering hearts.

Harmonic emphases are the basis of Cossack society.  When a young woman at a ball spurns an official, she declares the evening “un-Soviet!”  Romance, not rhetoric, will fix the problem and make the evening Soviet.  Farms at this time compete over a new piano that is for sale; they dream of the jazz, Chopin, and Soviet variety numbers they could play upon it and prove their kolkhoz “isn’t an old village.”  When love and music do indeed come together in a resolved romantic plot, the lead couple moves off towards the horizon as the credits get ready to roll—and the lovers are followed by the plows of massed agriculture across the screen, not vice versa.  Big plans follow in the successful, exemplary footsteps of little harmonies.

The Aniskin analogy is just as helpful (surely the name of the village in A Policeman’s Beat—that is, Anisovka—is not a coincidence?).  It results in plots with “little blood, lots of humor and life-affirming motives.”[ccv]  Millions of viewers agree, even if some question the intentions of this “neo-eco-realism” used to frame the tale of a divorced policeman, painfully preoccupied with a villager’s wife as he solves myriad crimes, none of which displace the yearning of his lonely heart.  Love is always there, working hard.


June Brides and Jingoism Are Potentially Synonymous (But It’s Nicer When They’re Not)

The use of love among villagers to advocate (or make) cohesion was adopted even more explicitly by ORT in its 2004 mini-series that drew, once again, on the Shukshin family—Shukshin’s Stories (Shukshinskie rasskazy, dir. Arkadii Sirenko).  The choice of subject matter—philosophically rural “essences”—may sound a tad obvious, yet if we compare its gentle patriotism to American television, heaven knows there is nothing in Russian melodrama to match the flag-waving of US primetime.  The Russian retrospection is quieter, empathetic, and, as a result, harder to express.  Its use of love to socialize single figures among (metaphorical representations of) many more people is sometimes complicated. 

Many series have had difficulty balancing ahistorical plots of love and passion with the related, busy environments of period costumes, antiques, or other historical reference-points.  Argument continues over the importance of socio-historical context and ways in which viewers might need or want it.  Is it more important to show and retell (that is, correct) the past or, conversely, stress themes that survived despite the reality captured in received histories?  These two goals overlap but remain distinct.

For any new love story to survive old Soviet history books, there are degrees of feasibility viewers will accept.  The same is true of stories set in the present, where today’s marketplace values are overwhelmingly oppressive and cruel.  Hence the amazing frequency with which fate and destiny are mentioned.  Yet these forces are never explicated in full; dramas like Life Lines or Two Fates include love’s victory, yet do so in ways that leave the workings of fate unexplained.  Nobody cares, though.  In a land where love was so often trampled (The Children of the Arbat being a perfect example) people simply have to believe in a better, hidden force.  And they do, because society’s ills are just as fated.

It would seem, therefore, that a need to accept love’s destiny (that is, “Because I can do so little myself”) is also what drives the need for the heroes of detective series like Kamenskaia to be socially active (“I hope those heroes can at least do something, because I cannot”).  Love and barely self-sufficient detectives are both embodiments of social amelioration.  Detectives, as we have seen, also need that love in their own private lives—in domestic emphases that must be palpable, lest we fall to the complaints suffered by confident, institutionally sustained Turetskii.  Even detectives must be romantic and it is their small, often unworkable dream (not dogma) of social betterment that allows for some aspects of Soviet storytelling to be redone, as in The Brigade or A Policeman’s Beat.  Storytelling is redone with romance.  Without the roles of Guseva and Poroshina, these two series would be completely different (that is, considerably uglier).

It takes little to turn lovelorn tales like A Policeman’s Beat into politics and at this point we can only hope that ORT stays on the right side of the line.  Nonetheless, we should already be grateful that most of the series outlined here express a Slavic social yearning without recourse to the cultural kowtowing of That Balzac Age.  One very bad example of self-demeaning citizenship, though, is 2004’s Sister Swap (Rodstvennyi obmen), directed by Vladimir Kott.  Despite an expensive roster (Kristina Orbakaite, Dmitrii Pevtsov, Marat Basharov, and music by Igor' Krutoi), its love story is a sad spectacle.  

  44: Kristina Orbakaite and Dmitrii Pevtsov in Sister Swap

With awful irony, this very Muscovite romance includes much that made Russian TV so provincial until recent times, including that enduring curse of the Slavic screen, post-sync dialog.  Whenever live speech does remain in the final cut, it is from the noisiest locales (inside cars, on sidewalks) and once-audible words are completely swamped.  Other old-time sins include female voices used for children; the crew’s equipment or limbs straying into frames; outrageously hackneyed attempts to pass off Russian actors as wealthy, stylish English-speaking executives—and the endless, strained ignorance of a returning émigrée (Orbakaite herself) that obliges most Russian characters to explain various loveable clichés of Moscow life (drink, laziness, bad diet, smoking, etc.).  Love of another land promises nothing good.  Love of the girl next door is both fine and poignant.  It also makes for better television and a better philosophy.  It may even make for a better society; all we can hope is that politicians don’t start telling us so.




[i] “Reiting serialov,” Interfaks-zapad (4 February, 2005).

  [ii] Prokhorova, Elena.  Fragmented Mythologies: Soviet TV Mini-Series of the 1970s. Unpublished PhD, U of Pittsburgh (2003): 230.

  [iii] Prokhorova: 237.

  [iv] “Smotrim televizor: Bum televizionnykh serialov,” Radio Svoboda (11 October 2004).  For the popularity of detective serials even among youthful viewers (according to web-based surveys): “Pol'zovateli interneta v Rossii okazalis' bol'shimi poklonnikami serialov” Izvestiia (30 November 2004).

  [v] “Mylovary. Rossiiskikh zritelei zastaviat poliubit' otechestvennye serialy,” Samara segodnia  (16 October 2004).

  [vi] It still reappears from time to time, as in Antikiller (dir. Egor Mikhalkov-Konchalovskii, 2002).

  [vii] Razzakov, F. Dos'e na zvezd: Tainy televideniia (Moscow: KSMO Press, 2000): 159-60.

  [viii] For more on the couple’s significance for television, see Prokhorova: 120-2.

  [ix] For information on updating and continuing the series further in 2001: “Znatoki vozvrashchaiutsia,” Izvestiia (26 September 2001).

  [x] The Tsygan series was then resurrected six years after its release, in 1985—a worrying sign of lessening innovation.

  [xi] “Otechestvennyi serial — pribyl'noe lekarstvo,” Russkii fokus. See also “Iskusstvo na mylo,” Ezhenedel’nyi zhurnal 87 (15 September 2003).

  [xii] “Vlastelin serialov,” in the same episode of Ezhenedel'nyi zhurnal.  The article includes a substantial interview with Andrei Kamorin, head of Novyi russkii serial.

  [xiii] “Televizionnye serialy: Made in Russia,” Kriticheskaia massa 3 (2003).  One might argue, however, that some of that psychological hominess is evident in the earlier Na uglu, u Patriarshikh… (dir. Vadim Derbenev, 1995: four episodes).

  [xiv] A large number of old interviews with Castro are housed at Mir teleserialov.

  [xv] Mir teleserialov.

  [xvi] The salvationary potential of Soviet cinema figures remains to this day.  When the screenwriters of Vechnyi zov and Teni ischezaiut agreed to work on the recent series Dve sud'by (discussed below) they had high hopes for a top-quality, “lyrico-epic” narrative: “Vechnyi zov russkoi dushi,” and “Mnogoseriinye stradaniia” for additional remarks by animator Garri Bardin on the adaptation of Dostoevskii’s Idiot.  Both are in Literaturnaia gazeta  43 (2003).  Overtly negative comments on these topics can be found earlier in the same year: “Saga o pornosaitakh,” 2 (22-28 January 2003).

  [xvii] “Tsitiruia Genseka,” Nezavisimaia gazeta (23 September 2000).

  [xviii] “Vremia, kotoroe okhotisia za nami,” Nezavisimaia gazeta (20 October 2001).

  [xix] “Tushite svet, chtob bylo svetlo!” Nezavisimaia gazeta (27 October 2001).

  [xx] “Rabynia Izaura vernulas' na teleèkrany v 120 seriiakh,” Regions Online (19 October 2004).  See also “Putin, Galkin i rabynia Izaura,” (1 July, 2004).

  [xxi]Khronika brazil'skikh telenovell v Rossii”.

  [xxii] “Serial po-russki,” Znamia 3 (1999).

  [xxiii] “Sibirskii tsiriul'nik,” Nezavisimaia gazeta (15 December 2001).  For a fuller picture of the Nezavisimaia gazeta surveys since 2000 that discuss serials, see: “Zona v strane chudes” (26 February 2000); “Fomenko i Uoker: Kto kruche?” (11 March 2000); “Iskusstvo tragicheskoe i iubileinoe” (8 April 2000); “Bozhestvennaia poshchechina” (2 September 2000); “Tenisisty i politikany” (16 September 2000); “Sgorevshii kreativ” (30 September 2000); “Noch' ne udalas'” (13 January 2001); “Televizionnye strashilki” (20 January 2001); “Liubov' pod viazami” (3 February 2001); “Telenedeli Borodina” (14 February 2001); “Plokhoi khoroshii serial” (17 February 2001); “Nedelia Andreia Mironova” (12 March 2001); “Televidenie i katastrofa” (15 March 2001); “Apokalipsis v dokumental'nom formate” (15 September 2001); “Terror bol'shoi i malyi” (22 September 2001); “I èto vse o SShA…” (29 September 2001); “Snova khor edinomysliia?” (6 October 2001); “Na teleèkran vozrashchaiutsia amazonki” (13 October 2001); “Televedushchie portiatsia, kak pomidory” (10 November 2001); “Gubenator meniaet professiiu” (10 November 2001); “Neznaika v solnechnom gorode” (1 December 2001); “Kliukva za nebol'shie den'gi” (8 December 2001); “Chinovnikov — na ostrov oshibok!” (15 December 2001); “Sibirskii tsiriul'nik i istoriia — veshchi nesovmestimye” (22 December 2001); “Pered Novym godom politiki stali dedami morozami” (29 December 2001); “Mezhdu ‘Golubym ogon'kom,’ venetsianskim karnalvalom i ‘Bredom sivoi kobyly’” (29 December 2001); “Posmotrite v glaza Saviku” (8 February 2002); “Olimpiiskaia telenedelia: Ne tol'ko ob olimpiiskikh” (22 February 2002); “Zhdem nastoiashchuiu varfolomeevskuiu noch'” (15 March 2002); “Ne sprashivaite, skol'ko èto stoit” (22 March 2002); “Chert iz tabakerki” (19 March 2002); “Po glavnoi stsene s orkestrom shagom marsh!” (17 May 2002); “Kul'turnuiu revoliutsiiu — na vse kanaly!” (24 May 2002); “Blatnye umniki” (31 May 2002).

  [xxiv] “Ia liru posviashchu zakazu tvoemu!” Nezavisimaia gazeta (15 February 2002).

  [xxv] Television in the Russian Federation: Organizational Structure, Programme Production and Audience. Strasbourg: European Audiovisual Observatory, 2003. 

  [xxvi] “Dokhodnoe mylo,” Iskusstvo kino 3 (2001).  The series were Prostye istiny, V zerkale Venery, Direktoriia smerti, Povorot kliucha, Barak, and S novym schast'em.

  [xxvii] “Voina serialov — èto khorosho,” Grani (21 December 2001).  As we know, the situation soon changed.  So much so, in fact, that some began to wonder if certain actors (especially Dmitrii Pevtsov, Aleksandr Baluev, and Vladislav Galkin) had no desire to appear in anything except TV dramas.  See “Myl'nye chempiony,” Argumenty i fakty 16/17 (April 2002).

  [xxviii] “Serial kak natsional'naia ideia,” Iskusstvo kino 2 (2000).

  [xxix] “Sezon okhoty na Zolushkov,” Nezavisimaia gazeta (21 October 2000).

  [xxx] “Serialy ia delaiu s udovol'stviem,” Molodezhnaia gazeta  (1 January 2005).

  [xxxi] “O serialakh i natsional'noi idee,” TV-kolonka / Nezavisimaia izdatel’skaia gruppa (13 May 2002).

  [xxxii]Pogovorim o serialakh.”

  [xxxiii] “Zhizn' —  na mylo,” TVIN Product Placement.  The latter quote is from Igor' Tolstunov, speaking on behalf of STS.

  [xxxiv]Fedoru Mikhailovichu povezlo s Vladimirom Vladimirovichem: The Poetics and Cultural Horizons of The Idiot Television Series.” Pomona College, 2005.

  [xxxv] Documented in “Dolgoigraiushchii Idiot,” Rossiikie vesti (23 April 2003).

  [xxxvi] “Idiota mozhno sniat' tol'ko na televidenii,” Izvestiia (1 September 2001).

  [xxxvii] “Dolgoigraiushchii Idiot.”

  [xxxviii] “Idiot — teleprem'era goda,” Slovo (23 May 2003).

  [xxxix] “Daniil Dondurei: Nashi serialy predlagaiut zhit' vchera,” Ogonek 45 (November 2004).  One journalist has blamed television for Russia’s murder rate of 30,000 deaths per annum (by 2001), that is, more than 10,000 higher than all murders committed in the USSR: “Shkoloi sadizma,” Literaturnaia gazeta 14 (9-15 April 2003).

  [xl] Hayward, J. Consuming Pleasures: Active Audiences and Serial Fictions from Dickens to Soap Opera. Lexington: UP of Kentucky 1997: 155-6.

  [xli] Fragmented Mythologies: 230.

  [xlii] “Smotrim televizor: Bum televizionnykh serialov.”

  [xliii] This figure is substantially more than the $7.5 million in “Kak v kino,” Kompaniia (29 September 2003).

  [xliv]Tsifry govoriat za sebia.”

  [xlv] “Medovyi mesiats Eleny Korikovoi,” Èkspress gazeta 44 (November 2003).  For more on Korikova: “Ne takaia uzh ona i krotkaia!” Megapolis-Èkspress (3 November 2003) or “Podarki dolzhny napominat' obo mne,” Èkspress-gazeta 52 (December 2003).

  [xlvi] “O fil'me”: and “Bednaia Nastia,” Serial 48 (November 2003).

  [xlvii] “Kto zhe èta Nastia?” Moskovskaia Pravda (14 November 2003).

  [xlviii] “Rabynia Izaura po-russki,” Èkspress gazeta 44 (November 2003).

  [xlix] “Kakaia zhizn' byla pod kryl'iami dvuglavogo orla,” Antenna 12 (15-21 March 2004).

  [l] “Pravdivaia skazka o Bednoi Naste,” Moskovskaia Pravda (19 March 2004).

  [li] “Obratnaia sviaz',” Tsvetnoi televizor 2 (5-11 January 2004) and “Bednaia Nastia tseluetsia so strast'iu,” Antenna 5 (11 January 2003).

  [lii] “Bednaia Nastia,” Serial 4 (January 2004).

  [liii] “Nebednaia Nastia,” Novaia gazeta (3 November 2003).

  [liv] “Anna Gorshkova: dobroe slovo i zlodeike priatno,” Antenna  3 (12-18 January 2004).

  [lv] “Rokovoi muzhchina,” TV-Park 48 (November 2003); “Zvezdy serialov meniaiut natsional'nost',” Komsomol'skaia Pravda (19 December 2003); and “Utonchennyi tiazheloves,” TV-Park 49 (December 2003).

  [lvi] “V Rossii — myl'nyi bum,” Otvet'! 3 (12-18 January 2004).

  [lvii] “Chut' pomedlenee, koni!” Tsvetnoi televizor 5 (January 2004).  See also “Vo vremia spektaklia ia slomal nogu,” Russkii kur'er (27 February 2004).

  [lviii] “Ia protiv liubovnoi chekhardy,” Èkpress-gazeta 12 (23 March, 2004).

  [lix] “Instinkt okhotnika,” Serial 11 (March 2004); and “Tret'ia zhena Vitorgana primirila ego s pervoi,” Komsomol'skaia Pravda (19 March 2004).

  [lx] “Liubov' na troikh,” Serial 7 (February, 2004).

  [lxi] “Moia Natasha — plod fantasii,” Èkspress-gazeta 9 (March 2004); and “Novaia zhena ochen' pokhozha na Allochku,” Sobesednik 8 (March 2004).

  [lxii] “Sila inogo,” Novoe vremia 52 (26 December 2004).

  [lxiii] “Dva nadoia s odnogo ‘Vozvrashcheniia,’” (3 October 2003): l.

  [lxiv] “Narodnyi èkran,” Izvestiia (28 August 2003).

  [lxv] “Stanislav Govorukhin,” Novye izvestiia (25 August 2003).

  [lxvi] “Bol'shaia sovetskaia melodrama,” Kul'tura-portal 34 (4-10 September 2003).  Similar analogies with Soviet narratives are in “Liubov' i Vera,” Argumenty i Fakty: Moskva 36 (3 September 2003).

  [lxvii] “Khudozhestvennyi fil'm: ‘Blagoslovite zhenshchinu.’ Obsuzhdenie”:

  [lxviii] “Mama aktera Il'ina schitaet ego novym Shtirlitsem,” Komsomol'skaia Pravda (22 October 2004).

  [lxix] “Dmitrii Nazarov stal sekretnym agentom,” Komsomol'skaia Pravda (11 August 2003).

  [lxx] This issue is briefly discussed in “Udacha mesiatsa: Krasnaia kapella,” Ogonek 39 (2004).

  [lxxi] “Na rossiiskie teleèkrany vozvrashchaetsia kino pro razvedchikov,” Rossiia: Vesti nedeli (12 October 2003):

  [lxxii] “Krasnaia kapella,” Women.lux (15 September 2004).  Debates continue as to Trepper’s work, arguing whether it was selfish or socialist.  Obliged to labor as a double agent in the Gestapo for some while, he is occasionally denounced by academics.  After personal research, though, the director (Aleksandr Aravin) became convinced of Trepper’s integrity and ability to bring “people of various views and positions together for the grand fight against fascism.”

  [lxxiii] “Sredi nas ne bylo predatelei,” Izvestiia (24 September 2004).

  [lxxiv] “Kapella krasnaia,” Itogi 36 (2004).

  [lxxv] “Zavershilsia pokaz teleseriala ‘Krasnaia kapella,’” Rossiiskaia gazeta (5 November 2004).

  [lxxvi] “Pravda o Krasnoi kapelle,” Sluzhba vneshnei razvedki Rossii.

  [lxxvii] “Shestnadtsat' let spustia,” Rossiiskaia gazeta (9 February 2004).

  [lxxviii] “Zavershena èkranizatsiia romana ‘Deti Arbata,’” (23 April 2004).

  [lxxix] “Prodiussery serialov liubiat fast-fud,” TV-Park (25 November 2004).

  [lxxx] “Na s"emkakh u akterov nachalis' romany,” Women.lux (13 December 2004).

  [lxxxi] “Istoriia liubvi, vernosti i predatel'stva,” Moskvichka (5 December 2004).

  [lxxxii] “Marsh primireniia i soglasiia: ‘Moskovskaia saga’ kak istoriia dlia bydla,” Novaia gazeta 88 (29 November 2004).

  [lxxxiii]Istselenie liubov'iu”.

  [lxxxiv]Forum Pervogo kanala: Deti Arbata,” (23 November, 2004). .

  [lxxxv] See also “Chulpan Khamatova stala blondinkoi,” Komsomol'skaia Pravda (17 September 2003).  This final observation is very interesting, considering that the screenplay was written by Valentin Chernykh, the author of Moscow Does Not Believe In Tears.

  [lxxxvi] “Vo vremia seriala ‘Dve sud'by’ pod Minskom sgoreli dva doma,” Komsomol'skaia Pravda v Belorussii (4 October 2003).

  [lxxxvii] “Dve sud'by – 2,” TVIN Product Placement.

  [lxxxviii] “Na teleèkrany vykhodit novyi serial,” (14 October 2002).  Nepodsuden is important in this context.  It tells of an airline pilot who notices that his erstwhile friend is a passenger on board, a man who once stole and married his girlfriend.  The couple and their son do not see the pilot, leaving the hero to ponder his dilemma at 30,000 feet.  There are many flashbacks in the film, beginning with a moment when the pilot had—long ago—sung his girlfriend a song of how “life on earth is impossible without friends.”  It transpires, however, that on the ground in Soviet society, friendship is at times very fickle.

  [lxxxix] “Ogovorki po Freidu,” (7 October 2003).

 [xc] “Myl'nyi navar,” Kommersant-Daily (Den'gi) (17 December 2003).

  [xci] “Protiv techeniia,” Rossiiskaia gazeta (22 September 2003).

  [xcii] “Takie raznye serii,” Literaturnaia gazeta 11 (24-30 March 2003).

  [xciii] “Nikakaia ia ne sterva,” Argumenty i fakty (15 October 2003).

  [xciv] From the viewers’ forum (23 December 2004) at

  [xcv] “Moskva slezam ne verit. Uzhe 25 let,” Argumenty i fakty (16 February 2005).

  [xcvi] “My snimaem istoriiu novykh russkikh Rastin'iakov,” Izvestiia (26 July 2002).

  [xcvii] From the forum (25 June 2004) at

  [xcviii] “Na STS ‘Nadezhda ukhodit poslednei,’” Moskovskii komsomolets (9 September 2004).

  [xcix] “Ideal'naia para.”  Forum at

  [c] “Aleksandr Baluev — orel!” TV-Park 41 (October 2000).

  [ci] “Chetvert' veka nazad — imenno v den' vsekh vliublennykh — kak raz i v liubvi mne i otkazali!”  Fakty i kommentarii (13 February 2002).

  [cii] “Sladkie parochki,” Sankt-Peterburgskie vedomosti 49 (20 March 2001).

  [ciii] “Ostanovka po trebovaniiu,” REN TV (March 2002).

  [civ] For more on the complexities thereof: “’Drugaia zhizn' Ekateriny Strizhenovoi,” Komsomol'skaia Pravda (8 April 2003).

  [cv] From the fan site dedicated to Andrei Rudenskii.

  [cvi] Not only is the series rather unfunny, it also deceives viewers by promising Vladislav Galkin in big, bold print on the DVD cover.  Galkin, however, appears for no more than 90 seconds in Episode One and then two or three times for 60 seconds in subsequent broadcasts.

  [cvii] “Serialy,” Telesem' (25 December 2004 — 2 January 2005).

  [cviii] From the forum (24 December 2004) at

  [cix] This romantic melodrama, “which plucks at your heartstrings with a life-affirming philosophy,” attracted several big names: Mariia Mironova, Natal'ia Vdovina, and Marina Aleksandrova (from Poor Nastia).

[cx] Ukrainian chat-rooms and forums had an interesting take on this policy or aesthetic of reversal.  As some fans started posting article after article about Aleksandrova’s childhood (on a Hungarian military base) and early career, one peeved participant lost her temper: “What a bore you are for knowing so much!”  From the “Nebo v goroshek” forum (12 February 2004) at Novyi kanal.

  [cxi] “Mylo i borshch s pampushkami,” Izvestiia (9 December 2003).

  [cxii] “Marina Aleksandrova izbila militsionera tuflei,” Komsomol'skaia Pravda (13 February 2004).

  [cxiii]U bednoi Nasti budet ‘Nebo v goroshek’” (21 February 2004).

  [cxiv] In an interesting parallel to this awkward relationship between things dramatically charitable and reality, Aleksandrova said only after appearing in the Russian version of reality show Survivor (Poslednii geroi) did she understand that “I’m able to love people.  Until that point I was impatient, unbalanced and a girl who acted according to her whim.  I insisted on what I wanted and paid no attention to other people.” “Kak-to v kazino ia proigrala vse do kontsa i ushla schastlivaia,” Novyi kanal: Pres-tsentr (2 March 2004).

  [cxv] “Gorokh nebesnyi — ne manna,” Kievskii telegraf 201 (2003).

  [cxvi] “Pervyi pobeditel' konkursa ‘Khochesh’ sniat'sia v kino?!’” Dorogaia Masha Berezina: Novosti (3 August 2004).

  [cxvii] “Serial: Dorogaia Masha Berezina.” Forum (22 September 2004) at

  [cxviii] “Skoraia prem'era seriala,” Kleo (28 May 2004).

  [cxix] “Dorogaia Anna Azarova,” Vash Dosug.  The parallels between the life of Azarova and the heroine are well detailed in “Model' v zhizni i v kino,” Shestoi nomer (14 September 2004).

  [cxx] “Reiting serialov,” Interfaks-zapad (4 February 2005).  All stations combined ran 293 serials, 114 of which were debuts.

  [cxxi] “Supermegaproekt ‘Dorogaia Masha Berezina.”  STS promotional materials.

  [cxxii] “Dorogovizna VO VSEM…” Khar'kovskie okna 28 (15 July 2004).

  [cxxiii] “Govorit i pokazyvaet ‘Bednaia Masha!’” Pravda (15 July 2004).

  [cxxiv]Serial ‘Zhelannaia’”.

  [cxxv] “Liubovniki Marii,” TV-Park (11 December 2003) and “Tol'iattinskaia liubovnitsa Berii popala v avariiu,” Komsomol'skaia Pravda (Samara) (20 July 2004).

  [cxxvi] “Informatsiia kanala,” Moia Udmutriia (14 January 2005).

  [cxxvii] This is perhaps because Sukhorukov had promised never to play another criminal figure for fear of being typecast: “Sukhorukov zagovorit s gruzinskim aktsentom,” REN-TV: Teleprogramma.  For the serial in the context of that season’s offerings from REN-TV: “Zhizn' Diatlovykh na kanale REN TV ili rossiiskii otvet amerikanskim Simpsonam,” (14 August 2003).

  [cxxviii] “Il'ia Avramenko, Evgenii Kostiuchenko: ‘Nina.’” (3 October 2003).

  [cxxix] A similarly schematic synopsis can be found at: “Nina. Rossiia 2001”. 

  [cxxx] “Ona tozhe napisala ubiistvo,” Mir novostei (16 September 2003).

  [cxxxi] “Na Minskom vokzale sniali kino i nashli 8,5 tiasiach dollarov,” Komsomol'skaia Pravda v Belorussii (5 March 2004).

  [cxxxii] “Mezhdu nebom i zemlei,” Rossiiskaia gazeta (12 March 2004).  See also “Liubov' nad oblakami,” Komsomol'skaia Pravda (18 March 2004).

  [cxxxiii] “Ekaterina Guseva poimala trekh zaitsev,” Rossiiskaia gazeta (23 April 2004); and “Gosti nochnogo poleta,” Vremechko (6 February 2003): Transcript. Though Guseva forged her career in the musical, she was—as fate would have it—on leave when the Dubrovka siege took place.

  [cxxxiv] “Tam, za oblakami,” TV-Park (19 March 2004).

  [cxxxv] “Krasivaia skazka o zhizni pilotov?” Komsomol'skaia Pravda (31 March 2004); and “Seriinye man'iaki,” Izvestiia (12 March 2004).

  [cxxxvi] “Katia Guseva nauchilas' igrat' paralich,” Komsomol'skaia Pravda (24 March 2004).

  [cxxxvii] “Serialy: Nebo i zemlia,” Moskovksie novosti (28 October 2004).

  [cxxxviii] “10 prichin, po kotorym vam nado smotret' serial ‘Nebo i zemlia,’” Serial (21 March 2004).

  [cxxxix] Beumers, Birgit. “Pop-Sots, or the Popularization of History in the Musical Nord-Ost,” SEEJ  48.3 (2004): 393.

[cxl] Lipovetsky, Mark. “Post-Sots: Transformations of Socialist Realism in the Popular Culture of the Recent Period.” SEEJ 48.3 (2004): 361-2.

  [cxli] Olcott, Anthony. Russian Pulp: The Detektiv and the Russian Way of Crime. Lanham and Boulder: Rowman and Littlefield, 2001: 114-15.

  [cxlii] Olcott: 149.

  [cxliii] “Nestandartnaia ‘Kat'enka,’” Russkaia Germaniia 48 (2-8 December 2002).  See also “Laskovyi Katafalk,” Metro (May 2003).

  [cxliv] Anonsy: Agentstvo NLS.

  [cxlv] “My s priiatelem vdvoem…” TV-Park (12 February 2003).

  [cxlvi] “Iz Laptiuga v zvezdy,” Prem’er 4/230 (30 January 2002).

  [cxlvii] “Uznal o sekse v detskom sadu,” Èkspress gazeta (5 March 2002).

  [cxlviii] “Gertsoginiu Iorkskuiu zashchishchal parikmakher,” Smena (24 August 2003).  On normalcy, see also “Sergei Umanov: Prevrashcheniia,” Panorama TV (7-13 April 2003) or “Artur Vakha: Vse my psikhi,” at:

  [cxlix] Promotional text for DVD release.

  [cl] “Net alibi v igre bez pravil,” Rossiiskaia gazeta (27 February 2004).

  [cli] For an explanation of Sukachev’s role: “Garik Sukachev razgovarivaet s kinobogami,” Guru KenShou (2 September 2003).

  [clii] “Zhenskie serialy: Press-konferentsiia,” The (9 May 2004).

  [cliii] “Na s"emkakh ‘Bal'zakovskogo vozrasta’ aktery razdevalis' bez priglasheniia!” Komsomol'skaia Pravda (1 June 2004).

  [cliv] “Proval seriala ‘Bal'zakovskii vozrast…’” (28 May 2004):

  [clv] “Chto delat' v bol'shom gorode, esli vse muzhiki svo…?”  The article inspired 273 responses from its readers!

  [clvi] “’Zhenshchiny bal'zakovskogo vozrasta’ sil'nee ‘Mentov,’” (26 May 2004); and “Zriteli otsenili novyi podkhod NTV k predstavleniiu teleserialov,” NTV: Novosti (21 May 2004).

  [clvii] “Grazhdane bal'zakovskogo vozrasta,” Rossiiskaia gazeta (1 June 2004).

  [clviii] “Vot tebe, babushka, i seks v bol'shom go…” Argumenty i fakty (24 June 2004).   See also “Est' odin muzhik ne svo…” Megapolis-Èkspress 23 (7-13 June 2004).

  [clix] “Klon nezrelogo vozrasta,” Literaturnaia gazeta 22 (2004).

  [clx] “A seksa vse net, ili vse baby du…” Krokodil 18 (May 2004).

  [clxi] “Zhenshchina bal'zakovskogo vozrasta sozdana dlia seksa, kak ptitsa — dlia poleta,” Ogonek 23 (June 2004).

  [clxii] From the show’s forum (14 November 2004) at

  [clxiii] “Ulitsy razbitykh fonarei: Kontseptsiia,” Iskusstvo kino 1 (2003).

  [clxiv] “Na ‘Ulitsakh razbitykh fonarei’ nastoiashchie prestupniki pereputalis' s kinoshnymi!” Komsomol'skaia Pravda (3 September 2003).

  [clxv] “Mozhem pomoch' s ideiami.” Segodnia  43 (26 February 2000).  For more concerning the influence this series had on television production norms, see the interview given by head of Novyi russkii serial (Andrei Kamorin) to radio station Èkho Moskvy on 3 July 2004.

  [clxvi]‘Menty’ prigovoreny k trem godam strogogo rezhima.  Undated.  An initial list of awards won by the series is outlined at “Kniga rekordov Sankt-Peterburga,” (1 December 2004).

  [clxvii] “Nasiliia na teleèkranakh stalo gorazdo bol'she,” Dagestanskaia Pravda (4 September 2003).

  [clxviii] On the popularity of the genre and its relationship to television vis à vis business: “Osnovnye nashi konkurenty ne izdatel'stva, a sredstva massovoi informatsii,” Èksmo izdatel'stvo (1 July 2004).

  [clxix] “Kamenskoi mogli stat' Drozdova i Glagoleva,” Komsomol'skaia Pravda (5 December 2003).

  [clxx] “Klevyi ment Nastia,” Podmoskovnye izvestiia (10 November 2000).

  [clxxi] “Kamenskikh mnogo…” Shchit i mech (19 September 2002).

  [clxxii] “Svoi serial blizhe k tele,” Moskovskie novosti 36 (2002).

  [clxxiii] “Voshel v seriiu — ‘vyshel v tirazh.’” Argumenty i fakty: Moskva (11 June 2003).

  [clxxiv] “Intelligentsia v rossiiskom detektive,” Neprikosnovennyi zapas 4 (2001).

[clxxv] “‘Marsh Turetskogo’: Novyi supergeroi ne vooruzhen, no ochen' opasen!” NetTV (October 2000):

  [clxxvi] “‘Marsh Turetskogo’ privel Domogarova v bol'nistu,” Komsomol'skaia Pravda (4 January 2003).

  [clxxvii] “Krizis realista,” Nezavisimaia gazeta (11 November 2000).

  [clxxviii] Series forum (17 August 2004) at

  [clxxix] “‘Brigada’ postkommunisticheskogo truda,” Izvestiia (21 October 2002).  Claims are made the story was based on memoirs of an ex-con from Minsk: “’Brigada’ — plagiat ili net?” (18 February 2003).

  [clxxx] “V ‘Brigade’ vmesto Bezrukova mog sygrat’ Mashkov,” Komsomol'skaia Pravda (4 June 2004).

  [clxxxi] “‘Brigady-2’ ne budet!” Komsomol'skaia Pravda (8 January 2003).  There remain on occasion hints that “just like Sherlock Holmes or Bender,” the story could be continued: “Krestnyi otets pokhoronil ‘Brigadu,’” Komsomol'skaia Pravda (11 February 2003).

  [clxxxii] “Vtoroi ‘Brigady’ ne budet?” Argumenty i fakty (17 March 2004).

  [clxxxiii] “Sergei Bezrukov znaet kak nado liubit',” (22 November 2002).

  [clxxxiv] “Sekrety seriala ‘Brigada,’” (21 October 2002): .  On the issue of how much money the actors made: “Bezrukov unichtozhil ‘Brigadu.’” 5 (March 2003).

  [clxxxv] “TV ustroilo razborki so zriteliami?” Komsomol'skaia Pravda (13 February 2003).

  [clxxxvi] “Brigada — luchshii russkii serial?” Websoft (undated).

  [clxxxvii] “Kaskadery Rossii obliubovali Zarechnyi,” Molodoi Leninets 12 (20 March 2001).

  [clxxxviii] “Myl'nye puzyri,” (2 October 2002).

  [clxxxix] “Khoroshie bandity?” Mesto vstrechi 50 (9-15 December 2002).

  [cxc] “Skazka pro belogo byka,” Moskovskii komsomolets (27 October 2002).

  [cxci] “Bandit-prodakshn,” Novaia gazeta 78 (21 October 2002).

  [cxcii] On the Brigada forum (2 March 2004) at

  [cxciii] The 2004 WWII series Kursanty (The Cadets, dir. Andrei Kavun) goes further into the past and employs several actors from Brigada: Vdovichenkov, Maikov, and Guseva.

  [cxciv] “Teni izmenit' nel'zia,” Itogi 2 (12 January 2001).

  [cxcv] “Russia Downgraded to ‘Not Free,’” Freedom House Press Releases (20 December 2004).

  [cxcvi] “’Uchastok’ stal samym reitingovym rossiiskim serialom poslednikh let,” Izvestiia (31 December 2003).  The oddity of a talking dog, dubbed by Bezrukov himself, is explained at: “Taina zvezdy seriala ‘Uchastok,’” (8 January 2004)  and in “Bezrukov poluchil pod zad,” Moskovskii komsomolets (14 December 2003).

  [cxcvii] On the “traditionalism” of the screenplay in Uchastok: “Opiat’ pro nas,” Vremia (10 June 2004).

  [cxcviii] “Nepakhannyi uchastok,” Ogonek 7 (January, 2004).

  [cxcix] “Khot' pokhozhe na Rossiiu — tol'ko vse zhe ne Rossiia...” Izvestiia (26 December 2003).

  [cc] On similar rosy-spectacled comparisons with Bezrukov’s recent work on a dramatized biography of Sergei Esenin: “Menta proshchu, za musora otvetish',” Mir TV i Kino (26 December 2003).

  [cci] “Uchastkovyi Bezrukov chut' ne umer ot SPIDa,” Komsomol'skaia Pravda (24 December 2003).

  [ccii] “Bezrukovu podsunuli nepravil'nogo psa,” Komsomol'skaia Pravda (9 December 2003).

  [cciii] “Rossian perekormili serialami,” RosBiznesKonsalting (10 December 2003).

  [cciv] From the series forum (9 September - 9 November 2004) at

  [ccv] “Zelenyi ‘Uchastok,’” Argumenty i fakty (3 December 2003).




Agentstvo NLS (The UPS Agency). Dir. Dmitrii Parmenov. Since 2001.

Aniskin i Fantomas (Aniskin and Phantomas) Dir. Mikhail Zharov and Vladimir Rapoport. 1974.

Bal'zakovskii vozrast, ili Vse muzhiki svo… (That Balzac Age, or All Men Are Basta…). Dir. Dmitrii Fiks. 2004.

Banditskii Peterburg III> Gangland Petersburg III). Dir. Viktor Sergeev. 2001.

Bednaia Nastia (Poor Nastia). Dir. Ekaterina Dvigubskaia, Petr Krotenko, Stas Libin (nature scenes), Alla Plotkina, Aleksandr Smirnov, and Petr Shtein. 2003.

Beregis' avtomobiliia (Look Out for the Car). Dir. Èl'dar Riazanov. 1966.

Blagoslovite zhenshchinu (Bless the Woman). Dir. Stanislav Govorukhin. 2003.

Bogatye tozhe plachut (Los Ricos También Lloran [The Rich Cry, Too]). Mexico. Dir. Fernando Chacón. 1979.

Bomba dlia nevesty (A Bomb for the Bride). Dir. Aleksandr Pavlovskii. 2003.

Brigada (The Brigade). Dir. Aleksei Sidorov. 2002.

Bumer (Bimmer). Dir. Petr Buslov. 2003.

Chetyre tankista i sobaka (A Four-Man Tank Crew and a Dog). Poland. Dir. Konrad Natecki. 1965-1969.

D'Artan'ian i tri mushketera (D'Artagnan and the Three Musketeers). Dir. Georgii Iungval'd-Khil'kevich. 1978.

Derevenskii detektiv (The Provincial Detective). Dir. Ivan Lukinskii. 1968.

Deti Arbata (The Children of the Arbat). Andrei Èshpai. 2004.

Dorogaia Masha Berezina (Dear Masha Berezina). Dir. Ekaterina Dvigubskaia, Petr Krotenko, Stanislav Libin, and Aleksandr Smirnov. 2004.

Drugaia zhizn' (Another Life). Dir. Elena Raiskaia. 2003.

Dve sud'by (Two Fates). Dir. Valerii Uskov and Vladimir Krasnopol'skii. 2002.

Gardemariny, vpered! (Midshipmen, Onwards!). Dir. Svetlana Druzhinina. 1987.

Goriachev i drugie (Goriachev and Others). Dir. Iurii Belen'kii. 1992-1994.

Grafinia de Monsoro (La Dame de Monsoreau). Dir. Vladimir Popkov. 1997.

Grantisa: Taezhnyi roman (Borderlands: A Romance of the Taiga). Dir. Aleksandr Mitta. 2000.

I snova Aniksin (Once More Aniskin). Dir. Mikhail Zharov and Vitalii Ivanov. 1978.

Ia tebia liubliu (I Love You). Dir. Viacheslav Krishtofovich. 2004.

Ideal'naia para (An Ideal Couple). Dir. Alla Surikova. 2001.

Idiot (The Idiot). Dir. Vladimir Bortko. 2003.

Interdevochka (Intergirl). Dir. Petr Todorovskii. 1989.

Ironiia sud'by (The Irony of Fate). Dir. Èl'dar Riazanov. 1976.

Kamenskaia. Dir. Iurii Moroz. Since 1999.

Koroleva Margo (La Reine Margot). Dir. Aleksandr Muratov. 1995-1996.

Krasnaia kapella (The Red Choir). Dir. Aleksandr Aravin. 2004.

Kubanskie kazaki (Cossacks of the Kuban). Dir. Ivan Pyr'ev. 1949.

Marsh Turetskogo (Turetskii’s March). Dir. Mikhail Tumanishvili. Since 2000.

Melochi zhizni (The Little Things of Life). Dir. Viacheslav Brovkin, Gennadii Pavlov, and Aleksandr Pokrovskii. 1992-1995.

Mesto vstrechi izmenit' nel'zia (The Rendezvous is Set). Dir. Stanislav Govorukhin. 1979.

Moia liubov', moia pechal' (Meu Bem, Meu Mal [My Love, My Grief]). Brazil. Dir. Reynaldo Boury, Paulo Urbiratan, Riccardo Waddington. 1990.

Moskva slezam ne verit (Moscow Does Not Believe in Tears). Dir. Vladimir Men'shov. 1979.

Nadezhda ukhodit poslednei (Hope Leaves Last). Dir. Evgenii Sokolov. 2004.

Nebo i zemlia (Heaven and Earth). Dir. Viktor Sergeev. 2003-2004.

Nebo v goroshek (Polka-Dot Heaven). Dir. Vladimir Balkashinov. 2003.

Nepodsuden (Beyond Jurisdiction). Dir. Valerii Uskov and Vladimir Krasnopol'skii. 1969.

Nina. Dir. Valerii Uskov and Vladimir Krasnopol'skii. 2001.

Nochnoi dozor (Night Watch). Dir. Timur Bekmambetov. 2004.

Novaia volna (Uma Onda no Ar [The New Wave]). Brazil. Dir. Lucas Bueno, José Carlos Pieri, Cecil Thiré. 1994.

Ofitsery (The Officers). Dir. Vladimir Rogovoi. 1971.

Ostanovka po trebovaniiu (Request Stop). Dir. Dzhanik Faiziev. 2000, 2001.

Parallel'no liubvi (Side by Side with Love). Dir. Dmitrii Mednov. 2004.

Passazhir bez bagazha (A Passenger without Baggage). Dir. Khuat Akhmetov. 2003.

Peterburgskie tainy (The Secrets of St. Petersburg). Dir. Vadim Zobin, Mark Orlov, and Leonid Pchelkin, 1994-1996).

Po tu storonu volkov (Beyond the Wolves). Dir. Vladimir Khotinenko. 2002.

Podkidysh (The Foundling). Dir. Tat'iana Lukashevich. 1939.

Polnolunie liubvi (Lua Cheia de Amor [Full-Moon of Love]). Brazil. Marió Márcio Bandarra, Flávio Colatrello Jr., José Carlos Pieri, Roberto Talma. 1990.

Prosto Mariia (Simplemente María [Simply Maria]). Argentina, Brazil, Mexico, and Peru. Dir. Carlos Barrios Porras, Walter Avancini, Benjamoin Cattan, Enzo Bellomo, Arturo Ripstein, Beatriz Sheridan. 1969-1989.

Riabynia Izaura (Esvara Isaura [Isaura the Slave]). Brazil. Dir. Milton Gonçalves, Herval Rossano. 1976.

Rodstvennyi obmen (Sister Swap). Dir. Vladimir Kott. 2004.

Semnadtsat' mgnovenii vesny (The Seventeen Moments of Spring). Dir. Tat'iana Lioznova. 1973.

Sen'orita (Sinhá Moça [Seniorita]). Brazil. 1986.

Sestry(Sisters). Dir. Anton Sivers. 2004.

Shukshinskie rasskazy (Shukshin’s Stories). Dir. Arkadii Sirenko. 2004.

Sibiriskii tsiriul'nik (Barber of Siberia). Dir. Nikita Mikhalkov. 2000.

Sladkii ruchei (Riacho Doce [The Sweet Spring]). Brazil. Dir. Reyaldo Boury, Luiz Fernando Carvalho, Paulo Urbiratan. 1990.

Sledstvie vedut znatoki (Experts Are on the Case). Dir. Viacheslav Brovkin, Iurii Krotenko, Viktor Turbin,Vasilii Davidchuk, Gennadii Pavlov. 1971-1989.

Strana glukhikh (Land of the Deaf). Dir. Valerii Todorovskii. 1997.

Stavka bol'she chem zhizn' (A Risk Greater Than Life). Poland. Dir. Andrzej Konic. 1967.

Svetskie khroniki (Society Pages). Dir. Valerii Zelenskii and Andrei Kuznetsov. 2002.

TASS upolnomochen zaiavit' (TASS is Authorized to Report). Dir. Vladimir Fokin. 1984.

Teni ischezaiut v polden' (Shadows Vanish at Noon). Dir. Valerii Uskov and Vladimir Krasnopol'skii. 1971.

Tsygan (Gypsy). Dir. Aleksandr Blank. 1979.

Uboinaia sila (Lethal Force). Multiple directors. From 2000.

Uchastok(A Policeman’s Beat). Dir. Aleksandr Baranov. 2003

Ulitsy razbitykh fonarei (Streets of Broken Lights). Multiple directors. From 1997.

Vechnyi zov (An Eternal Summons). Dir. Valerii Uskov and Vladimir Krasnopol'skii. 1973-1977.

Vokzal( The Station). Dir. Andrei Kavun. 2003.

Vyzyvaem ogon' na sebia (Bringing Fire Upon Ourselves). Dir. Sergei Kolosov. 1963-4.

Zhelannaia(Beloved). Dir. Iurii Kuz'menko. 2003.

Zhenshchiny v igre bez pravil (Women in a Lawless Game). Dir. Iurii Moroz. 2004.

Zimniaia vishnia (Winter Cherry). Dir. Igor' Maslennikov. 1985.